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Brilliant Saints deny the might Tigers in a classic semi final

It was the game of the season and did it feel good for Northampton because they’d won the semi-final?

Yes! But it felt even better knowing the jinx that hung over them had been lifted; they’d broken the spell and beaten their local rivals Leicester – when it mattered the most!.

And it would be naïve of me to think I could write this piece without being biased, so where do I start?

I’ve been making the journey to Franklins Gardens since I was six, and never have I ever witnessed such an incredible game of rugby. The atmosphere was exceptionally tense and highly charged with devoted emotion.

I clapped until my hands were red raw and felt my heart couldn’t beat any faster. The adrenaline kick was on overload for every one of the 13,491 fans that packed out Franklins Gardens on Friday night.

It was undoubtedly the biggest roller-coaster of emotion I have been on and I wasn’t even on the pitch playing!

For the Saints, it was the ultimate and most significant turning point, as the team knew it was now or never.

The rapid tempo of the game in the first ten and the energy exerted was off the Richter scale. For any fan watching it flashed before your eyes. I barely put pen to paper I was so engrossed.

Toby Flood put the first points on the board for the Tigers but a flurry of excitement followed when Franklins Gardens erupted prematurely! Initially it looked like Kahn Fotuali’i was heading over the line as he sneaked around the ruck, but he was taken into touch just short with a tremendous tackle by Matthew Tait.

The 16th man was there when Northampton needed them most but the Tigers fans weren’t far behind, the wailing wall of noise was relentless.

Talk about the pure physicality of these two sides; it was immense; the scrum was stationary, the defence was cemented and the attacking play bullish and brutal.

Stephen Myler settled the score three a piece in the second quarter of the game but on the attack the Tigers looked totally threatening. Manu Tuilagi proved this with the first try of the game, converted by Flood. The Saints defence was nowhere to be seen. There was a lack of organisation from Northampton and I started to wonder if this try would affect Saints morale.

Were Saints to suffer another painful defeat to their local rivals?

Niki Goneva was then sent to the bin for disrupting play with just over ten minutes left in the first half and Myler struck the ball beautifully to compensate. The tension eased slightly as the staccato sound of ‘Tigers…Tigers’ was drowned out by the rivaling and pulsating surge of ‘Come on you Saints.’

But Leicester were in it to win it and their second try came three minutes from half time when Ben Youngs barged and battered Northampton’s defence. Youngs leaped in the air and was met by his team mates at the edge of the Burrda stand and Northampton were left with nothing to show for their one-man advantage. Just shy of half time Goneva returned from the bin.

It had to be more than full steam ahead going into the second half for Saints as they trailed 6-17.

Six minutes into the second half and another Leicester player was yellow-carded. This time it was Dan Bowden for a high tackle. The second half was proving just as fraught as the first.

Myler made it three from three and even when a man in the crowd shouted ‘Get back Leicester!’ and the crowd laughed it was really the semi-final we had all been hoping for.

At times though it felt like a Tigers’ home match – the noise of their fans drowned out the Saints Nation and the Tigers were back at it again doing what they do best, causing mayhem. But the tenacity and belief of the Saints meant they weren’t going to give up and nor were the Saints’ faithful at Franklins Gardens.

The pressure was on and Tait made his second poor judgment of the night kicking out on the full and the Saints were back in the Tigers 22. But the crux remained – could Saints get over the gain line?

Not this time and as the momentum of the game became slightly disjointed just shy of the last quarter, the manbags were out, big time.

A brutal blow by Salesi Ma’afu on Tom Youngs saw him red carded and Youngs sin-binned for instigating the affray.

Tensions were rising and the intensity continued to build. It was now or never. Northampton had to bring it back but they were penalised at the scrum and it looked like game over. Or was it?

It was the first the Tigers had really seen of the ball but Northampton won back possession instantly and were within five metres of the try line. Could they score?

It felt like the inevitable was going to happen… and it did!

George North scored and that was it – Northampton were back in contention for what they had all been dreaming of, that Premiership final. Myler converted and there was only one point in it with thirteen minutes to go.

Northampton just needed to remain calm but they were penalised for foul play and Owen Williams put Leicester into a four point lead with seven minutes left.

Had Saints finally scuppered their chances?

No. They showed strength of character and if they were going to lose, it would be kicking and screaming until the dying moments.

With the clock still ticking and the Tigers panting for a rest, Saints played quick ball and it was a continuous physical pounding from the forwards pack that enabled Tom Wood to break over the gain line and Franklins Gardens erupted in a full-on frenzy! What incredible scenes.

I just stopped to absorb what a massive effort the Saints players had put in to create this monumental, memorable moment. I felt engulfed – enjoying the emotion around me – and whether you looked left or right, Northampton supporters were on their feet, jumping, shouting, hugging and singing.

Myler missed the conversion but Northampton had the one point lead they needed with 36 seconds left on the clock. The Franklins Gardens faithful counted the clock down with ten seconds to go, and that was it. Northampton Saints had done it, they had won and they had fought as if their lives depended on it to the bitter end.

It was impossible not to feel overwhelmed on this night. Joy, elation, relief and pride whirled around the stands and I feel privileged to say I was there to witness this fantastic game of rugby.

Full Time: Northampton Saints 21-20 Leicester Tigers

The referee J.P Doyle controlled the game well and really nothing could part the phenomenal performances of these two sides. Man of the Match, Tom Wood, said afterwards:

“We were just trying to encourage the ref to let us play. We wanted to play quick. We wanted to use our biggest assets, the likes of Kahn and Lee Dickson, not allowing them to lay down and have a stretch and luckily it paid off”

The physicality and determination was amazing and it really went down to the wire. Hats off to Leicester Tigers because their defence was impressive and no doubt with the adversity they’ve suffered this season, they’ll be back stronger next season.

I spoke with their skipper Ed Slater after the game:

“It’s pretty hard to take and we just gave away far too many penalties in the second half,” he said

“Discipline was poor and that’s what lost this game in the end.”

Northampton Saints have now defined their season with this monumental win and the belief in their own capability; keep that belief up boys, you’re nearly there.

The top two sides in the Premiership will meet at Twickenham on Saturday 31st May in the Aviva Premiership Final.

This years’ final show stopper on the Aviva Premiership merry-go-round.

All Aboard!!!

By Rhiannon Chandler-Day (@RhiannonCDay)

To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.ukrhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk

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