Northampton Saints recorded their first season’s double over East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers since 2004 with a thrilling victory at Welford Road.
A backs-to-the-wall first-half performance saw Saints enter the interval 17-12 ahead, with both Ben Foden and Cobus Reinach touching down while Stephen Myler was flawless from the kicking tee.
And Saints roared out of the blocks after half-time, scoring a decisive try through Ahsee Tuala before Myler kept the hosts at arm’s length with another penalty – with a dogged defensive effort from all 15 players getting Alan Dickens’ men to the final whistle.
Saints were dealt a hammer blow right from the kick-off as stand-in skipper Rob Horne went into contact on Graham Kitchener and took a horrible knock to the head – that brought Luther Burrell into the action with only 12 seconds on the clock.
Tigers put the squeeze on but despite huge pressure, a brilliant try-saving tackle from Tuala prevented an opening score for Tigers wing Adam Thompstone.
And Saints punished their hosts in fine style; Paul Hill making a stunning break through the ruck to create the opening, and after a few more phases the ball was sent wide by Piers Francis for acting skipper Foden to cross in the left corner.
Myler’s conversion was on the money to make it 7-0, and the momentum was with Saints as they mounted another attack soon after. And while Reinach was caught in possession, a brilliant tackle on Ellis Genge from George North earned his side a penalty as Tom Youngs went in at the side.
Myler again landed his kick to extend Northampton’s lead, but this time Tigers struck straight back as Telusa Veainu was released under the posts by Genge.
A cut sustained in contact saw North replaced by Tom Collins, before Leicester then took the lead for the first time in the game with a Matt Toomua try despite suspicions of an offside for Kitchener.
But a penalty in midfield as Reinach was impeded preceded a brilliantly-executed line-out move from Saints; Harrison released a wriggling Reinach who squirmed his way over the whitewash despite two Tigers defenders standing in his way.
Saints supporters were making themselves heard at the break, and they became even louder just after the resumption as first Hill made ground before Reinach broke and released Tuala to score a third try of the afternoon for the men in Black, Green and Gold.
Myler hit the conversion straight and true, and with Tigers piling on the pressure from the restart, Jamie Gibson – on his 150th Aviva Premiership appearance – forced a fine turnover to silence the hosts.
Saints soon found themselves on their own line again with Tigers desperate for a way back, but a huge shift from Northampton’s front three won a crucial penalty – although high tackles soon after from Harrison and Alex Waller allowed Ford to close the gap to within a score with two penalties.
Waller saw yellow in the aftermath so Northampton went down to 14 men, but out of nowhere replacement Ehren Painter won a scrum penalty and Myler gave his side some breathing room from the tee.
Ford’s penalty again pegged Saints back, but impressive defence and a gritty final few minutes from Northampton saw them run the clock down and earn their first win at Welford Road since 2007.
10’ SAINTS Try Foden, Conversion Myler 0-7
17’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 0-10
19’ TIGERS Try Veainu Conversion Ford 7-10
29’ TIGERS Try Toomua 12-10
33’ SAINTS Try Reinach, Conversion Myler 12-17
HALF-TIME: Tigers 12 – 17 Saints
45’ SAINTS Try Tuala, Conversion Myler 12-24
58’ TIGERS Penalty Ford 15-24
64’ TIGERS Penalty Ford 18-24
69’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 18-27
72’ TIGERS Penalty Ford 21-27
FULL-TIME: Tigers 21 – 27 Saints