Northampton Saints XV were beaten 45-14 at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Monday evening by Leicester Tigers XV, in the first of two ‘Derby Day Double’ clashes.
The men in Black, Green and Gold trailed 26-14 at the interval despite two tries from Karl Wilkins and Craig Wright, as hosts Leicester crossed the whitewash four times through Francois van Wyk, Charlie Atkinson, Sean Jansen and Kini Murimurivalu.
And it was Tigers who pulled away in the second half as both sides rung the changes, with Phil Cokanasiga, Hosea Saumaki, and Joe Browning extending the lead without response from Northampton.
Saints will hope to turn the result around in a fortnight’s time, when Northampton host Leicester in the return leg at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
Tigers drew first blood; following an early scrum penalty, the hosts kicked to the corner and went through the phases before eventually van Wyk burrowed over the line and came up with the ball.
Atkinson’s conversion was landed, and while Saints came within an inch of hitting straight back, Toby Thame burst over the whitewash but was held up meaning Leicester could clear their lines.
Thame and Frankie Sleightholme combined beautifully on 15 minutes in the midfield to send the latter through a gap, but a breakdown penalty cost Saints as Leicester wrestled back some territory, and Atkinson wriggled through a gap under the posts before converting his own try.
The hosts extended their lead with 21 minutes played when Atkinson chipped over the top and into the corner, catching the Northampton defence on the back foot, and the ball was recycled for Jansen to dive into the corner.
At 19-7 the next score was crucial, and after a deliberate knock-on from Nic Dolly, Saints grabbed a try through Wright who rumbled over at the back of the subsequent rolling maul. Grayson’s conversion was on the money again to bring the deficit back to five points.
But some slick hands from Leicester inside the 22 saw scrum-half Sam Edwards dance through and find Murimurivalu on his shoulder to skip under the posts and hand Atkinson a simple conversion to make it 26-14.
Tom Lockett, Tom James, and Alex Woolford entered the action for Northampton at the start of the second 40, but it was Tigers who were next on the scoreboard as Atkinson grubbered through and, with Courtnall Skosan unlucky to slip tracking back, Cokanasiga was left with a simple finish.
Matthew Arden and Jake Garside were also introduced from the bench, and after the sides exchanged scrum penalties, Saints so nearly hit back but were again held up over the line by the Tigers’ defence.
Garside almost crossed with 55 minutes played after a stunning 50-metre break from Lockett, but the young Saint was tackled into touch in the corner. He was involved again moments later, this time at the other end of the pitch to spectacularly prevent a 50-22.
But Northampton’s ill-discipline cost them as a penalty for a side entry was kicked into the corner, and Tigers’ lineout drive was effective to send Saumaki over. George Hendy’s pass was then picked off by Browning, with the wing racing under the sticks and Atkinson converting, to take the scoreline to 45-14.
A scrappy final ten minutes meant neither side could further add to their tally, and Saints will look to hit back in the second fixture against Tigers on home soil in just 12 days’ time.
TIGERS: Murimurivalu, Browning, Cokanasiga, Woodward, Simmons, Atkinson, Edwards, van Wyk, Dolly, Hurd, Chessum, Carmichael, Carnduff, Ilione, Jansen
Replacements: Vanes, Richardson, Hoyt, Manz, Koroiyadi, Wolstenhome, Meredith, Samauaki
SAINTS: Hendy, F Sleightholme, Litchfield, Thame, Skosan, J Grayson, Braley (c), Hobbs-Awoyemi, Haywood, Prowse, Coles, Atuanya, Wilkins, Wright, Scott-Young
Replacements: Burns, Holsey*, Dimen*, Woolford*, Lockett, Rylands*, Garside, James, Arden, Kean