Aviva Premiership: Leicester Tigers earn deserved 22-16 victory over Northampton Saints
By Ben Hampshire | @BH92. Last Updated: 31/03/14 3:53pm
Leicester Tigers saw out a late Northampton Saints surge with 13 men to secure a 22-16 victory over their midlands rivals in Saturday's Aviva Premiership showdown.
In a repeat of last year's Grand Final the defending champions excelled in control and discipline to overcome the Saints, who remain second as the battle for play-off place in the top flight intensifies.
Anthony Allen crossed for Leicester before Owen Williams kept the scoreboard ticking with a peerless goal-kicking display.
Kahn Fotuali'i and Ethan Waller scored for Northampton but a litany of errors from the kicking tee ensured they fell six points short.
A clear air of tension surrounded Franklin's Gardens as the hosts made an authoritative start, Wales winger George North making a series of probing runs, drawing a penalty from the Tigers, which Will Hooley converted into three points.
However, it was the defending champions who registered the opening try with a powerful attack, spearheaded by Ed Slater and Jamie Gibson, before a long pass from Ben Youngs picked out a loitering Allen on the right flank and the inside centre crashed over the line.
Despite taking bruising hits from a rampaging North in the opening exchanges, Owen Williams - enjoying his first taste of a midlands derby - struck the conversion from the right touchline and added a penalty moments later as the Tigers established a seven-point lead.
Leicester's composure and physicality seized control of the tie as 22-year-old Williams added a third penalty as the hosts' deficit increased to 10 points.
Saints made a rare foray into Leicester territory on the cusp of half time and appeared to have Richard Cockerill's defensive ranks wavering.
Tigers remained firm to hold Northampton on the line after Jamie Elliott's kick-chase, but Fotuali'I had enough power to dart over and bring Saints within five points of the visitors.
Hooley's radar continued to let Saints down from tee as his conversion sailed past the posts; had he been on target, the scores would have been level at the break.
Leicester continued to assert their authority following the restart as Logovi'i Mulipola charged into Northampton territory, then Manu Tuilagi exerted too much force and was penalised for a high tackle.
Northampton's craving for first-choice kicker Stephen Myler was accentuated as Hooley failed to capitalise once more, before Ryan Wilson assumed fly-half duties.
The dominance of the Tigers pack forced another penalty at the scrum and Williams, who controlled proceedings throughout with his distribution and game management, struck the first points of the second half.
Williams further extended the Tigers advantage another with another penalty just after the hour before Saints launched a spirited comeback.
The ever-potent North stormed his way to the Tigers 22 with a 50-metre break before his progress was halted by Youngs, who was sent to the sin bin for his effort.
Saints advanced briskly and looked certain to cross the whitewash as Ken Pisi was lined up on the right wing, only for Scott Hamilton to make a last-ditch try-saving tackle.
Leicester showed signs of cracking under pressure as Niki Genova was shown a yellow card.
Saints made the most of their numerical advantage as Waller flew over on the left flank after the depleted Leicester defence was stretched, but Wilson's failure at the tee meant the hosts were still in need of a converted try.
Northampton opted to play the cross-field ball in search of Pisi but Tuilagi beat the Saints winger to the high ball.
There appeared to be time left to play on the stadium clock but referee Wayne Barnes disagreed and brought an end to proceedings without the line-out, much to the disgruntlement of the home crowd.