LEICESTER TIGERS 19 – 19 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Leicester Tigers salvaged a draw in the dying minutes against a fired-up Northampton Saints on Saturday, thanks to a late Ed Slater try.
The Saints looked to have secured victory and revenge for last season’s Aviva Premiership final defeat, following Stephen Myler’s flawless kicking display and Alex Corbisiero’s try, but after squandering numerous try-scoring opportunities, the Tigers finally made their hard work pay off when Slater touched down late on.
In the first-half, the atmosphere at Welford Road felt noticeably subdued compared to the two sides’ previous encounter at Twickenham, with Northampton having the better chances early on but neither side really possessing the killer clinical edge.
Stephen Myler opened the scoring for the visitors after 10 minutes with a long-range penalty, but the hosts soon equalised when Luther Burrell was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Anthony Allen, allowing Toby Flood to draw level.
Leicester dominated the scrum for much of the half, forcing the Saints pack to collapse on numerous occasions, but they were unable to capitalise via their backline, which clearly missed the strength and aggression of the injured Manu Tuilagi.
Myler added two more penalties to the Northampton account either side of a promising attack involving George Pisi and George North that ultimately fizzled out. Flood reduced the deficit with a penalty kick of his own, leaving the home team trailing 6-9 at half-time.
Upon the start of the second-half, the tempo of the match increased threefold. The Saints flew out of the blocks, rapidly gaining ground with strong runs from the backs and excellent mauling from the forwards.
Through a superb team effort, Northampton found themselves parked in front of the Tigers try-line, and on the 50 minute mark, England and British Lions international Alex Corbisiero crashed over from short-range. Myler converted, putting the Saints 10 points clear with half an hour to go.
Flood responded with a penalty for Leicester shortly afterwards, but the visitors continued to press for their second try, with Ben Foden breaking through and the Saints pack then bundling over the try-line in the left-hand corner. However, the TMO ruled it to have been held up.
This was the wake-up call that the Tigers needed, as the hosts suddenly sprung to life. Flood, settling well into his captain’s role, led by example as he pierced Northampton’s defence, but despite an overlap on the left, poor passing put an end to the attack.
Soon after, full-back Niall Morris, now positioned much higher up the field, almost burst through on the right-hand side on two occasions – both times, he failed to play supporting winger Blaine Scully into space and possession was lost.
Northampton briefly recovered, and Stephen Myler cancelled out Flood’s earlier penalty. With just 10 minutes remaining, the Saints led 19-9.
Leicester persisted though as Vereniki Goneva, who had often looked uncomfortable at centre instead of his usual position on the wing, finally made his impression, exploding into space in midfield and earning the Tigers a penalty, which Flood slotted.
Five minutes from time, Leicester’s dogged efforts were rewarded. Toby Flood was once again the playmaker, making a half-break in the Saints 22, and before Northampton could regroup their defensive line, replacement scrum-half David Mele delivered the perfect offload to Ed Slater, who charged over for the try.
Flood converted, and just before full time even attempted to snatch the win with a very ambitious drop goal attempt. Alas, the teams finished level at 19-19 – a fair result to a closely-fought contest between two of this season’s title contenders.