Northampton Wanderers bagged an impressive victory over derby rivals Leicester Tigers to secure their place in a fourth consecutive knock-out round in the Premiership Rugby Shield.
Tries from Andrew Kellaway and George Newman before the break put Wandies on the front foot but with Leicester sending Clayton Blommetjies over twice and Fred Tuialgi over just before the turnaround, the away side stayed just ahead.
But impressive showings from Connor Tupai, Ken Pisi, Tui Uru alongside a hat trick score for Kellaway in the second forty gave Wanderers the all-important bonus point and secured their place in the Premiership Rugby Shield semi-finals for the fourth season running.
Leicester took the game into their control in the opening minutes, as Clayton Blommetjies cut through the Saints defence and left the home side chasing the winger, giving Tigers an early 7-0 lead.
Kellaway had his say in what had become a frantic opening, with a fine score of his own in the corner from a superb pass out to the wing, levelling the game.
An astonishing run by Pisi nearly sent Kellaway on his way to a second try, but a knock on by Connor Tupai stopped him dead in his tracks; the Wandies had well and truly regained control of the game.
Tigers worked well and through their numbers and the pace on display proved tricky to tackle, as Blommetjies bagged a second score in the left corner to give his side the lead for the second time.
Leicester’s discipline in the scrum proved costly, as three Saints penalties earned them a lineout, from which George Newman pulled Northampton back even to 14-14 after an impressive maul bundled both teams into the corner and over the line.
Wanderers withstood immense pressure from the Tigers in their own 22, but eventually Leicester wriggled free and scored their third of the game through Fred Tuilagi.
Despite a late surge from Northampton, their efforts couldn’t bring the scores back level for a third time, and the teams headed down the tunnel at half time with Leicester holding a seven point advantage.
Wandies nearly had the start to the second half they were after when Tom Collins dived across the line, but it was judged that he dropped the ball to the frustration of the home support.
The pressure paid off for Northampton though, as Tupai crossed the line from a blitzing run to reduce his side’s deficit to just two points with half an hour to play.
Minutes later, Wanderers regained the lead with a fine score from Pisi after a blazing run from Tom Emery and Kellaway sent Pisi under the sticks to grab the crucial bonus point score, and push his team towards their seventh win of the season.
Both Wanderers and Tigers looked battered and bruised, but it was Northampton’s men who pushed through, and once again Emery and Kellaway linked up for a fifth try of the game, a second for Kellaway, to push their side 12 points clear of Leicester.
The offloading game from Northampton was exquisite, and it worked wonders in helping Uru bag the sixth of the match with a charging run down the right wing, putting the result in almost no doubt.
It started raining tries at the Gardens, with a third in five minutes come from Tigers and Blommetjies completed his hat-trick under the posts with a late consolation for the visitors.
Tigers went for one last push to try and grab a losing bonus point, but their efforts came to nothing as Northampton Wanderers sealed a derby day victory to claim their seventh win of the Premiership Rugby Shield season.