Craig Newby and Marcos Ayerza scored vital tries in a 27-16 win over Saints, who started the weekend in second place in the table, with a capacity crowd at Welford Road enjoying an intense and enthralling derby meeting.
“I thought it was a great game of rugby, and not just because we won,” said Cockerill. “It was a great battle between two very good sides.
“It was a battle at the set-piece, the breakdown was fierce from both sides and it was a battle at every contact point.
“Saints have been playing well and I genuinely thought before the game that they were the team to beat. We were hurting a bit from the performance down there at the start of the season and this was a fantastic contest.”
Tigers had to recover from the shock of conceding a try from Ben Foden inside the opening minute, but a quick reply from Newby helped the hosts to an 11-10 lead at half-time. Ayerza’s try came just after the hour-mark and gave Tigers some breathing space for the first time in the game.
“It was a game we had to win because Saints have games in hand on us,” said Cockerill.
“In isolation it is a good win but everybody knows there is a long way to go. We have nine games to play, Saints have 11 and there are other teams around us with a lot of rugby left in them too.
“I’m not overly worried about the league table at the moment, we just have to keep going, try to play our game and keep our form.
“There is lots of rugby to be played and lots of teams in there who are playing well.
“It has been a good day, but there are a lot of days to go.”
Tigers lock Louis Deacon, who received the Aviva man-of-the-match award, said: “They caught us a little bit cold but it was a great start for them. We were a bit shocked but we just needed a bit of composure and we managed to bounce back.”
The only blemish on the day for Tigers was the loss of captain Geordan Murphy, stretchered off the field with an ankle injury.
“He’s gone over on his ankle and we’ll assess it over the next couple of days,” said Cockerill. “Our luck with injuries has not been great this season but we’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
Tigers return to action with a Heineken Cup trip to the Scarlets next Saturday before hosting Benetton Treviso at Welford Road on Sunday, January 23 (1pm).