There will be a question as to what was the overriding emotion among the Saints Nation as they travelled back from Welford Road after seeing their team denied what would have been a deserved draw by Freddie Burns’s last-minute penalty.
However, that the 235th East Midlands derby even came down to the last kick of the game was testament to the testicular fortitude of the Saints, who bounced back from a 21-0 deficit to tie things up with just five minutes to play.
So there will be disappointment at the final result and pride in the comeback, but there was certainly shock among the Saints at the way they started the game, conceding three tries in the opening quarter to a rampant Tigers outfit.
Welford Road was packed with a modern-day attendance record, and the decibel levels at kick off were quickly overtaken inside the opening two minutes as Leicester tore into the Saints.
The Tigers showed their intent from the off, putting the ball through the hands straight away after winning a lineout against the throw, and then taking their own first throw-in quickly. And the tempo paid dividends with just two minutes on the clock, Matt Smith skipping out of a desperate Jamie Gibson tackle and then selling a dummy to Ben Foden on his way to the whitewash.
The score had seemed all-too-easy for Leicester, but while Saints had been rocked to the ropes by a haymaker they quickly gathered their senses to put the hosts onto the back foot.
The ball control was good, the running direct and the kicking out of hand intelligent, and soon Saints had set up camp in the home 22. But they could not get the reward they wanted, JJ Hanrahan missing his first shot at goal and Leicester twice forcing play out over the touchline, the first seeing the defence force a pass out of play and Owen Williams felling Tom Collins after the winger had been put away by a great Foden pass out of the tackle.
Having held what the visitors had to throw at them it was then Leicester’s turn to pile on the pressure, twice sending penalties to the corner. And with their second maul the hosts were over for their second score, Lachlan McCaffrey coming off the back to squeeze in by the corner flag.
Leicester had had to work for that score, but their third was a simple finish for Williams. The hosts’ pace was creating gaps, Ben Youngs spotting space between Alex Waller and Mikey Haywood on the 10-metre line to turn on the pace and put his fly half over between the sticks.
It was painful viewing for the travelling supporters, and while Saints tried to vary the play by mixing their running and kicking games Leicester had enough space on the scoreboard to be able to trust their own defence and soak it up.
Eventually their efforts brought a Hanrahan three-pointer just before the half-hour, but while this was scant reward Saints gave their supporters something to shout about seven minutes later. Leicester conceded two penalties in quick succession, and Hanrahan’s kick to the corner was finished off by the pack, Harrison the man with ball in hand when the maul went over the whitewash.
Hanrahan’s conversion was a pearler, and while it gave the visitors the fillip they needed there was better to come after play resumed for the second half.
Leicester’s 20-odd phases took them into the visitors’ 22, but when it mattered Mikey Haywood stepped up with an interception and George North went 80 metres to the posts for the try, and with Hanrahan’s conversion all of a sudden it was game on.
Then with 51 minutes on the clock the derby - which up to that point had been hard, physical and free flowing - finally had a bit of controversy. Just as Leicester were looking to build some pressure on halfway up stepped Saints with a turnover and a run from Paul Hill that took him all the way to the try line.
The Saints Nation in the stands went wild, but referee Wayne Barnes wanted to check a possible high tackle from Tom Wood in the build-up. Wood’s hand may have been a little too high, but Peter Betham was on his way to the deck anyway and the rest of the tackle was fine. Still, Barnes and his TMO decided that it was on the wrong side of the law, and instead of a score that would have taken Saints in front, it was a penalty to Leicester.
So instead of a swing in momentum to the visitors it quickly became a 10-point lead to Leicester, Burns nailing two penalties in four minutes. Then back came Saints with an attack that saw Dan Cole be sent to the sin bin for interfering with play a bit too obviously, and two lineout drives that took the visitors within sight of the whitewash.
Leicester’s defence held, but when their forwards tried to be a bit too cute defending a lineout on their own 22 Jamie Gibson took advantage, intelligently keeping hold of the ball to break away and slide over for a score, converted by Stephen Myler.
Back came Leicester, who once again began going through the phases deep in the visitors’ half. But once again Saints came up with the turnover, Collins kicking ahead and then forcing Betham to concede a lineout.
It was a cracking position, which became even better when a penalty was awarded for Myler to tie things up and set up a cracking finale which had looked a long way off 55 minutes of action earlier.
And after a half in which momentum had swing this way and that, ultimately the day belonged to Leicester, the Tigers keeping the ball patiently around the fringes until the final, crucial, penalty was awarded.
LEICESTER Veainu; Betham, Tait, Smith, Thompstone; Williams, B Youngs; Ayerza, T Youngs (capt), Cole, de Chaves, Kitchener, Fitzgerald, O’Connor, McCaffrey
Subs - Thacker, Mulipola, Balmain, Croft, Pearce, Harrison, Burns, Tuilagi
SAINTS Foden; Elliott, North, Burrell, Collins; Hanrahan, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Haywood, Hill, Lawes, Matfield, Gibson, Harrison, Dickinson
Subs - Williams, E Waller, Denman, Day, Wood, Kessell, Myler, Mallinder
2mins LEICS Try Smith Con Williams 7-0
8mins SAINTS Miss pen Hanrahan
19mins LEICS Try McCaffrey Con Williams 14-0
22mins LEICS Try Williams Con Williams 21-0
29mins SAINTS Pen Hanrahan 21-3
37mins SAINTS Try Harrison Con Hanrahan 21-10
HALF-TIME LEICESTER 21 SAINTS 10
43mins SAINTS Try North Con Hanrahan 21-17
53mins LEICS Pen Burns 24-17
57mins LEICS Pen Burns 27-17
58mins LEICS Yellow card Cole
65mins SAINTS Try Gibson Con Myler 27-24
75mins SAINTS Pen Myler 27-27
76mins LEICS Miss DG Burns
80mins LEICS Pen Burns 30-27
FULL-TIME LEICESTER 30 SAINTS 27