Even though they were playing with a strong wind behind them Saints found themselves behind in the early exchanges in terms of possession and territory, and thanks to a fifth-minute Freddie Burns penalty, down on the scoreboard as well.
The visitors were on the wrong end of the penalty count as Tigers first turned on the power at a scrum and then kept the ball in hand in a maul to give Burns the shot at goal from the left of the uprights.
But if Saints were rocked it did not show, and after winning back the kick off Tom Collins went on a run up the left touchline. Christian Loamanu tackled Lee Dickson from an offside position, and while Leicester disrupted the visitors’ lineout play went on, Saints were awarded a scrum which became a penalty and a tying three points from James Wilson.
Leicester did not just get the first points, they got the first try, too. Saints were a bit too eager in defence, leaving the smallest of dog legs for Burns to exploit. Jamie Elliott pulled off a great tackle on Logovi’i Mulipola, followed immediately by a near-interception from Wilson, but Leicester still ended up with a lineout, and a drive from which Jordan Crane went over in the corner.
Again Saints came back, putting together a string of phases themselves that put them well inside the home red zone. Dom Waldouck was to the fore, trucking it up before switching the play, and when Brad Thorn stayed too long in an offside position at a ruck up stepped Wilson to reduce the deficit by three.
Then it was Leicester’s turn, trying to find space in the Saints’ defence before pushing the visitors back with a neat Burns grubber to the corner. But the rearguard was up to the challenge, with Mike Haywood providing the first tackle for the highlights reel with a huge hit on Julian Salvi that also won a penalty.
Wilson sent a huge kick to within a few metres of the home whitewash, and while Leicester held the initial maul Christian Loamanu was penalised in midfield for not supporting his weight at a breakdown. Wilson was on target once again to nudge Saints in front, but after having done so much good in getting themselves in front the visitors suffered a massive scare just after the half-hour.
A seemingly solid scrum was won back by Ben Youngs, who snaffled up the loose ball when it popped out of the back, and after Vereniki Goneva had had a typically powerful run followed up by a snipe by his scrum-half Crane was there to crash over.
The cheer went up, but the final clearout had been into the side of the tackle area and instead of a try referee Matthew Carley had awarded Saints a penalty. That proved to be the final action in either danger zone before the break, the teams heading into the sheds with the Saints leading 9-8.
Saints had not had a long-range penalty in the first half to demonstrate the wind’s strength, but Burns did fewer than 90 seconds after play re-started, sending a kick between the sticks from wide out on the right and close to the halfway line.
The visitors remained under the cosh as the second half continued to unfold, and while Youngs had a try chalked off for grounding the ball short Leicester set up camp on the Saints’ line with a series of scrums.
Time after time the power came on, with the visitors conceding both penalty after penalty and eventually two yellow cards, too, Salesi Ma’afu and his replacement Gareth Denman heading to the sidelines for 10 minutes as punishment for team offences.
Ironically enough, the second of these actually went somewhat against Leicester, as with no suitable replacements available for Saints the game went to uncontested scrums. As a result Burns went for the sticks, and while the penalty extended the lead to five points it was not close to what the Tigers’ faithful had demanded.
Welford Road had its chance to cheer three minutes later, and while the two-man difference eventually told out wide as Niall Morris went over, it was a rare mistake at a lineout from the Saints that created the opportunity, Leicester winning the ball against the throw on the visitors’ 22.
Saints did have an opportunity just after the hour mark, Wilson sending a penalty to the corner, but being two men down told in this area of the field, too, Leicester pushing the maul back and eventually winning a penalty.
So by the time that the visitors returned to full strength the momentum was very much in Leicester’s favour, Tommy Bell landing his first shot at goal to take his team 13 points ahead with as many minutes to play.
And when Leicester did infringe on halfway, Sam Olver went for a little too much distance, seeing his kick stay infield instead of establishing territory on the home 22.
There was no such mistake when a similar opportunity presented itself a few minutes after that, and it created the position for a try that brought Saints back into the contest. A solid maul pulled in the defence, Christian Day broke to split the defence and Tom Stephenson swerved his way over the line.
But Sam Olver’s missed conversion meant that Saints were still two scores down and with too little time to do anything about it, despite a great break from Howard Packman in the last minute of play.
LEICESTER Morris; Thompstone, Tait, Loamanu, Goneva; Burns, B Youngs (capt); Mulipola, T Youngs, Cole, Thorn, Kitchener, Slater, Salvi, Crane
Reps - Thacker, Ayerza, Balmain, De Chaves, Gibson, Harrison, Bell, Roberts
SAINTS Tuala; Elliott, Waldouck, Stephenson, Collins; Wilson, L Dickson; Corbisiero, Haywood, Ma’afu, Dickinson, Craig, Dowson (capt), Harrison, Fisher
Reps - Hartley, A Waller, Denman, C Day, Nutley, Fotuali’i, Olver, Packman
REFEREE Matthew Carley
5mins LEICS Pen Burns 3-0
9mins SAINTS Pen Wilson 3-3
12mins LEICS Try Crane 8-3
17mins SAINTS Pen Wilson 8-6
24mins SAINTS Pen Wilson 8-9
HALF-TIME LEICESTER 8 SAINTS 9
41mins LEICS Pen Burns 11-9
52mins SAINTS Yellow card Denman
52mins SAINTS Yellow card Ma’afu
53mins LEICS Pen Burns 14-9
56mins LEICS Try Morris 19-9
67mins LEICS Pen Bell 22-9
74mins SAINTS Try Stephenson 22-14
FULL-TIME LEICESTER 22 SAINTS 14