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Second half sucker punch floors Saints at Sixways

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

Rarely will the Saints so dominate a half of rugby yet get so little reward for their efforts. The second half was one-way traffic, the waves of white-clad men coming time and again only to founder on a dogged and determined Leicester defence that somehow managed to find that extra power at a scrum, that final tackler or force the fumble to thwart at least half a dozen try scoring opportunities.


But rugby is as much about execution as creation, and by the time Geordan Murphy lifted the LV= Cup the Saints were left ruing not just their own chances, but the 10 second half points they had given away.


Leicester had visited the Saints' 22 just twice in the second 40 minutes, once in the final few minutes and earlier when Scott Hamilton raced in for an interception try which took his team into an unassailable 17-point lead.


It had been an all-or-nothing play from the Kiwi as Saints had worked a three-man overlap. But as with so many things Leicester tried it came off and ultimately proved to be the match winner. Christian Day's late try gave some reward to their efforts, but it was too little, too late.


The second half was in complete contrast to the first. Saints had started brightly, running the ball well at a sunlit Sixways and forcing pressure at the scrum and breakdown alike. This yielded three kickable penalties, but while Stephen Myler's first effort faded to the right of the uprights attempts numbers two and three both sailed between the sticks.


Having given themselves the early lead, Saints then had to be reliant on their defence to hold Tigers out. The white line held, but as at the other end of the field referee JP Doyle was not hesitant in awarding penalties and by the end of the opening quarter George Ford had tied things up.


Leicester may have been getting on the score board but their front rowers were dropping in worryingly rapid succession. First to depart was Boris Stankovich, who had been in Paul Doran Jones's pocket in the first two scrums. Then Rob Hawkins departed following a powerful Soane Tonga'uiha burst.


Ironically enough these enforced changes actually strengthened Tigers' cause. Marcos Ayerza strengthened up the loose head side and Tom Youngs showed why he is rated so highly.


That said, Saints' scrum still showed plenty of promise, but Thomas Waldrom - who was marshalled well in the loose by the Northampton defence - made some crucial pick-ups to tidy up around the base and negate powerful driving from Calum Clark's men.


The first half's key score came with 26 minutes on the clock. An exchange of penalties from fly halves Myler and Ford kept things tied up, but when Hamilton came off his wing to make a powerful burst it put Leicester onto the front foot. Waldrom and George Skivington both made more yards but it was man of the match Steve Mafi who finished things off in the left corner, stepping out of Vasily Artemyev's tackle to cross the whitewash.


The Russian had done the right thing in going for Mafi's ankles, but the Tongan still showed enough power to get himself over the gain line.


Ford's conversion brought the half-time score to 16-9, and when he landed a long-range penalty at shortly after the break Saints were forced to throw caution to the wind.


This they did, James Downey and George Pisi making yards through the middle, Paul Diggin and Scott Armstrong partnering up effectively in the back three and Andy Long and Tonga'uiha both conspicuous in their own ball carrying efforts. But with both Pisi and Armstrong being denied by tap tackles, and Leicester's forwards fronting up to hold out their counterparts at several five-metre scrums and lineouts, things just weren't going the Saints' way.


Hamilton's try may have come completely against the run of play but it was backed up by some excellent play on the back foot. This was typified with 10 minutes to play. Good interplay from Armstrong and Diggin had created an overlap on the left. But not only did a Tiger appear from nowhere to send the winger towards touch, but Mafi also sprinted back to cover, intercepting Armstrong's inside ball and snuffing out the danger.


Leicester's pack had done their own job 10 minutes earlier, winning two five-metre scrums against the head and pouncing on a third when a rare Roger Wilson mistake had left the ball behind one powerful drive.


Had Saints scored with 20 minutes to go they would have been very much back in the match. And had Leicester received a yellow card before Murphy's with nine minutes to go things could have got very interesting indeed.


But while they kept on coming, Ryan Lamb in particular looking to exploit space at every opportunity, the contest had slipped out of reach and the Saints will now have to turn their attention on finishing the Aviva Premiership Rugby season strongly and securing a place in the play-offs.


REFEREE JP DOYLE


TIMELINE

4mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler

6mins SAINTS Pen Myler 0-3

12mins SAINTS Pen Myler 0-6

15mins TIGERS Pen Ford 3-6

19mins TIGERS Pen Ford 6-6

23mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-9

25mins TIGERS Pen Ford 9-9

26mins TIGERS Try Mafi Con Ford 16-9

34mins TIGERS Miss pen Ford

HALF-TIME TIGERS 16 SAINTS 9

46mins TIGERS Pen Ford 19-9

50mins TIGERS Try Hamilton Con Ford 26-9

71mins TIGERS Yellow card Murphy

75mins SAINTS Try Day 26-14

FULL-TIME TIGERS 26 SAINTS 14