Two David Ribbans tries paved the way for Northampton Saints to notch up their first victory of the new season with a 31-22 triumph over their East Midlands rivals on Derby Day.
The visitors held a slender 14-10 lead at the break thanks to Ribbans’ double, with the big second row twice stretching over the whitewash either side of two Jonah Holmes scores for Leicester.
And while Tigers kicked on to go in front in the second half, Fraser Dingwall first set up Tom Collins with an interception before getting on the scoresheet himself to round off Saints’ third straight win at Welford Road.
Saints worked the ball across the backline nicely in the opening stages of the game, but could not find the breakthrough until the ninth minute when a moment of magic from Henry Taylor unlocked the Tigers’ defence.
A superb show-and-go from the back of a ruck saw the scrum-half dart through a gap before feeding Ribbans inside him for the game’s opening score under the posts.
Grayson made no mistake with the routine conversion, but Saints were pegged back to 7-5 when Leicester fly-half Noel Reid collected his own chip over the top, and flung a pass to Holmes on the left wing – who did well to finish under pressure from two Saints defenders.
Reid pushed his conversion attempt wide however, and after referee Christophe Ridley adjudged Taqele Naiyaravoro not to have wrapped in a tackle just after, the fly-half could not atone for his miss with the resulting penalty, as a strange connection of boot on ball saw the low kick whistle wide.
But Tigers did eventually take the lead through Holmes’ second score in the same corner, with Leicester getting some numbers out wide – although Reid’s radar was again off with the conversion attempt, leaving the scoreline at 10-7 after 27 minutes.
Northampton were soon back in front however; a well-worked lineout move saw Andy Symons and Naiyaravoro truck it up, before Ribbans came steaming through the middle again to finish just to the left of the posts, with Grayson knocking over the conversion.
A cynical knock-on from Holmes then allowed Grayson to send the ball into the corner as Saints tried to tighten the screw before the interval, but just as Symons looked set to burst over the whitewash, a knock-on cost the visitors a try.
Tigers went back ahead in the 49th minute as they mauled from the five-metre line, with Will Spencer grounding underneath a heap of bodies, before the hosts made it a quick-fire double as Reid collected Andy Forsyth’s clever offload to run under the posts.
The fly-half converted his own try to take the scoreline to 22-14, but just as the momentum looked to be against Northampton, up stepped Dingwall to turn the game on its head – first off all with a massive tackle inside his own half to halt Leicester’s progress, before the centre then intercepted a pass in midfield and kicked forward for replacement Tom Collins to collect with the tryline at his mercy.
Grayson’s conversion brought Saints back within a point, and moments later another beauty of a lineout move from Saints saw Dingwall burst through a gap and burn past the last defender to score a sensational try with 12 minutes remaining.
Grayson was unerring from the tee to first knock through the conversion, and then stretch the lead out to two scores with a penalty five minutes from time after Tigers interfered at a Saints lineout.
From there Northampton did not look back and will look to build on their first win of the season when the Gallagher Premiership campaign gets underway next weekend against Saracens.