Northampton Saints endured a Derby Day to forget as Leicester Tigers ran out 55-26 winners in front of a sold-out cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
The visitors were dominant in the first 40 minutes, with Nemani Nadolo crossing the whitewash twice and Francois van Wyk and Julián Montoya both also scoring from short range – although Courtnall Skosan’s late try gave Saints a lifeline heading into the sheds.
For 20 minutes after half-time, the comeback looked like it might be on for Northampton as Leicester saw Richard Wigglesworth and Jasper Wiese yellow carded, before Alex Waller and Alex Mitchell both grabbed tries.
But George Ford kicked Tigers a couple of scores clear shortly after as Saints’ ill-discipline in their own half cost them, and while Leicester crossed twice more through Jack van Poortvliet and Kini Murimurivalu, Skosan’s second try of the afternoon earned Northampton a try bonus point in defeat.
Tigers got off to a perfect start as they won a penalty after Saints were caught in possession, with Ford making it 3-0 from the tee.
It was a frenetic start to the game with both teams enjoying some possession inside the opposition 22, but the defences won out as both sides opted to try to kick in behind.
But it was Leicester who notched up the first try of the afternoon after referee Tom Foley reversed a penalty decision against the visitors on their own 22, with Api Ratuniyarawa adjudged to have hit Dan Cole late.
Moments later Jasper Wiese punched a hole through the middle and with Northampton scrambling to cover, the ball was shipped wide to Nadolo, with the big Fiji international impossible to stop on the touchline.
From the kick-off, Tigers were penalised but Dan Biggar’s long-range shot just drifted wide of the mark, and the hosts were punished on 20 minutes as some Sharp footwork from Dan Kelly created a try-scoring opportunity – the centre darted through and offloaded to former Saint van Wyk to score under the posts.
Ford’s conversion made it 15-0 to Tigers, and things went from bad to worse for Saints as three minutes later, the ball went loose on halfway and fell straight into the hands on Nadolo, whose charge to the line was fortunate as he slipped to the ground but evaded the tackle of last-man Biggar in the process.
Leicester then wrapped up the bonus point after 35 minutes, with Foley penalising Saints three times in quick succession; from a resulting lineout drive, Montoya stretched out to score in the corner.
Ford’s conversion was again good, but with the clock in the red, Skosan gave Northampton a lifeline at 27-5 down with a brilliant finish in the corner after wriggling out of a tackle.
Saints lost fly-half Dan Biggar to an injury over the interval, with James Grayson entering the action, and they soon had a man advantage as Richard Wigglesworth was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Fraser Dingwall.
And the hosts made Leicester pay shortly after, with Dingwall making a burst through again, and Mitchell sniping over straight after to light up the Gardens – Wiese also saw yellow in the aftermath for his no-arms tackle on Dingwall.
Grayson then piled on the pressure, pinging a perfect 50-22 kick into the corner, but Tigers scrambled well to hold up Mitchell over the line and win a goal-line drop-out – and Ford managed the game well thereafter with Leicester down to 13, box-kicking up the field before capping it off with a 40-metre drop-goal straight from a goal-line drop-out.
Waller hit back with a peach of a try in his 23rd East Midlands derby; Skosan skinned Nadolo on the outside before Hutchinson made a break, with the loosehead prop arriving on the left wing to finish off a great move.
But Ford hurt Saints again with two more penalties to take the scoreline to 36-19 as the hosts were made to pay for their ill-discipline in their own half.
And Northampton’s hopes of a dramatic comeback were dashed with 12 minutes left to play, with Hutchinson’s clearance charged down and van Poortvliet latching onto the loose ball to score.
Murimurivalu and van Poortvliet added some gloss to the scoreline for Leicester before full-time, but Grayson’s cross-field kick found Skosan for the Springbok to earn Saints a try bonus point with two minutes remaining.
Next up for Chris Boyd’s side is a trip to Sale Sharks next weekend in the Gallagher Premiership.