- By Andrew Aloia
- BBC Sport at Mattioli Woods Welford Road
Gallagher Premiership: Leicester v Northampton
Tries: Van Wyk, Liebenberg Pens: Pollard 4 Cons: Pollard 2
Northampton Saints: (3) 17
Tries: Furbank, Matavesi Pen: Smith Cons: Furbank 2
Leicester Tigers overcame a stubborn Northampton Saints in the East Midlands derby for their first Premiership home win of the season.
Handre Pollard landed three penalties to put Tigers 9-3 up, with Fin Smith replying in a nervy first half.
Francois van Wyk grabbed Tigers’ first try as Saints went down to 13 men.
George Furbank hit back despite the sin-binnings, only for Hanro Liebenberg to all but seal Tigers’ win, before Sam Matavesi cut the deficit late on.
Tigers boss Dan McKellar has been quick to embrace the significance of Leicester’s fierce rivalry with Saints, but the slow start to the Premiership campaign had him talking about not being distracted as they searched for an important win.
Leicester’s second league win under the Australian lifted them up to eighth in the table and ended Saints’ three-game winning run.
Ben Youngs, who retired from international rugby as England’s most capped men’s player at the end of the World Cup, set a new derby appearance record as he started his 28th meeting.
The hosts were gifted the ideal start, as Furbank’s fumble from a Freddie Steward kick – which quickly led to a penalty for offside – set Pollard up for an easy kick for the first points of the game inside three minutes.
Tigers had a try ruled out by the television match official (TMO) soon after, with replays showing Solomone Kata strayed offside to obstruct play ahead of Charlie Clare as the former Saints hooker peeled off the maul to crash over the line.
A long-range penalty from Smith was enough for Northampton to momentarily restore parity midway through the first half despite failing to seriously threaten.
Two penalties from Pollard in two minutes – including one from inside Tigers’ own half – put Leicester six points up at the break, although both sides missed chances late in the half.
Moments after World Cup-winning South African Pollard crashed a penalty attempt off the post, Saints had a try of their own chalked off by the TMO.
James Ramm left Leicester stunned as he chased down a searching kick over the top, but he could only knock on over the line as he snuck around the backtracking Steward.
Saints belligerently held firm defensively early in the second half, and a Pollard penalty was all Tigers had to show for an exhausting 15 minutes immediately after the break, as they were twice denied by the TMO and Saints had Matavesi sin-binned.
Van Wyk came off the bench to eventually go over for the hosts, punishing Saints for repeated penalties that had them down to 13 men when Ethan Waller was also shown a yellow card.
It was with the numerical disadvantage that Saints came to life, with Furbank hitting back against the run of play before the visitors almost sensationally crossed again out wide. It was another intervention from the TMO that denied Tommy Freeman for a knock-on in the build up.
Alex Coles would go on to have another try ruled out for Saints, but Leicester flanker Liebenberg put the result beyond doubt with a quick tap before burrowing over.
The derby continued to deliver even as the game passed 80 minutes, with Matavesi finishing off a length-of-the-field try, but that was little more than a consolation effort.
Leicester Tigers head coach Dan McKellar told BBC Radio Leicester:
“I’m obviously happy, it’s a big derby game and first one for myself. It’s a special occasion and good for us to front up and get the win.
“I thought physically we were outstanding. Our set-piece dominance, our defensive pressure, in the first half in particular, is what won us the game.
“It would have been nice to score one or two more, but overall I’m really pleased.”
Northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson said:
“It was very frustrating. In the first half we got dominated at the breakdown and the second half, when you go down to 13 men you are going to struggle. Particularly away at Leicester.
“Discipline and the breakdown were the two key things that let us down.
“From the stats I got, it was 23 penalties [Saints conceded] and while it doesn’t make it impossible, it makes it very difficult. We go down to 13 men and it makes it pretty tricky, and I thought we did pretty well as we scored with 13 men.”
Leicester Tigers: Steward; Bassett, Porter, Kata, Hassell-Collins; Pollard, Youngs; Cronin, Clare, Heyes, Henderson, Chessum, Liebenberg (capt), Reffell, Wiese.
Replacements: Vanes, van Wyk, Cole, Carter, Rogerson, Whiteley, Shillcock, Scott.
Northampton Saints: Furbank, Hendy, Freeman, Dingwall, Ramm; Smith, Mitchell; A Waller, Langdon, Davison, Moon, Munga, Coles, Pearson, Ludlam (capt).
Replacements: Matavesi, E Waller, Millar Mills, Lockett, Pollock, James, Hutchinson, Sleightholme.
Sin-bin: Matavesi, Waller.
Olivia Martin is a dedicated sports journalist based in the UK. With a passion for various athletic disciplines, she covers everything from major league championships to local sports events, delivering up-to-the-minute updates and in-depth analysis.