“Job done, I’m not going to be critical of how it was…however, it would’ve been nice if the scrum had been refereed a little bit better but look Saints were good, they made us work hard,” said Richard Cockerill.
“Unfortunately, Leicester had a very good ten minutes where they squeezed us in the set piece, in the scrum and I think that’s probably ultimately made the difference.” said Jim Mallinder.
We always knew Welford Road would be full to the brim for Derby Day against Northampton Saints and it was – packed to the rafters – with 24,000 supporters. Everything was riding on this match for Leicester as a win would mean securing their place in the play-offs, and they did…
But Saints didn’t make it easy for them.
That said, it was Tigers who were on the front foot early doors and with need and momentum behind them; it only took all of six minutes for the boot of Freddie Burns to slot the first penalty. But when a collapsed scrum favoured Saints, it was Jimmie Wilson who reciprocated to level.
Tigerâ€™s play oozed promise and their powerful forwards pack kept pushing; and it reaped dividends when a rolling maul led by Jordan Crane off a line out was only going to end one way – with the first try of the game, accompanied by an incredible and inevitable roar from the fans faithful of Welford Road! But Burns didn’t manage to convert and when a wandering arm knocked the ball out of scrum-half Lee Dickson’s hands, Wilson managed to kick the penalty to close the points margin, 8-6.
Leicester kept their game plan tight with a lovely grubber kick from Niall Morris putting play back into Saints 22′ but faltered and gave away what felt like the umpteenth penalty, this time for holding on.
When Saints finally settled into their comfort zone, their execution was actually incredibly strong. I use the word ‘actually’ like I’m surprised, I’m not – I was more impressed with the visitors than the Tigers this half … were they having forty winks? Well the crowd certainly wasnâ€™t.
The amount of tackles Saints made was remarkable. Tigers on the other hand seemed to be honey-potting around the breakdown â€¦ with little effect. Surely a team who had to win would be doing more? Well…at the scrum they were – reset after reset just inside Saints half wound the clock down to half time.
I was hoping for a little more from the Tigers second-half…
And I got it.
Tigers needed to up their game at the breakdown to create the gains they needed and within their back line, they did. What followed was a marvellous phase of rugby in an incredible scoop off a line out from Logovi’i Mulipola. He barged his way through three defenders and made the metres to take Tigers tantalisingly close to the try line. Ben Youngs then attempted to put the ball down at the post base but on TMO review, it was short. At this decision, there was uproar in the stands like you wouldn’t believe. Mulipola went off injured but that didn’t stop the thundering Tigers, they had to force this win.
On the third scrum reset five metres out, Saints prop Salesi Ma’afu was replaced by Gareth Denman to avoid a possible yellow card. But then lo and behold, Denman was penalised and yellow carded! It was time for referee Matthew Carley to award the penalty try, but he didn’t. I was baffled. If he couldn’t award this and be certain of a try being scored with Tigers forward momentum, he should have let play carry on, to actually see who was at fault. Say no more.
Well I didnâ€™t, but the crowd showed their frustration with booing, chanting, clapping and whistling. There was absolute pandemonium at Welford Road. For the scrums to continue, Maâ€™afu had to return from the bench â€“ only to be yellow carded straight away for another infringement! Saints were down to 13 and after five scrums, Tigers were still try-less. What a palaver. Tigers finally opted to kick and take the points from the penalty. Matthew Carley was incredibly whistle happy, more so than focussing on how uncontested scrums would fare, now Northampton were without two props .
Tigers kept their momentum on the move and after about ten minutes of scrummaging, Niall Morris crossed the white wash off a mighty overlap for the second try of the day – Phew, I was glad it was over – not so glad about the uncontested scrums though.
Northampton put Tigers through their paces to slow the game down with pick and go work round the corner of the ruck over and over again, finally forcing a penalty. But it didn’t pay off long term and it was Tommy Bell who added the points for the Tigers to widen the gap, 22-9.
At this point, it was safe to say, Leicester had cemented their place in the play-offs.
I think they knew this and nodded off to sleep, allowing Tom Stephenson to dart over the try line at pace. Sam Olver didn’t manage to add the extras but it was a late comeback. Only a little one.
Full Time: Leicester Tigers 22-14 Northampton Saints
And as the final whistle blew, Tigers were through. It wasn’t a pretty game but they’d put all their might into it and deserved the win.
As for Saints, they played a good game of rugby but their full focus will now be on the semi-final against Saracens, as will Richard Cockerill’s against Bath;
“It’s a one off game; we’re a different side to when we played them down there (the Rec)…and like I said, it’s a one off game. The pressure’s probably not on us, because they’ve invested heavily on their side, they’ve played really well and if we can go there and throw everything at them and whatever comes out the other end is probably a bonus.”
To be continued …
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk