Northampton 27-19 Leicester, Aviva Premiership, September 5
Saints too good for Tigers
September 5, 2010
Northampton's Soane Tonga'uiha is mobbed after scoring against the Tigers at Franklin's Gardens
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Northampton handed defending champions Leicester a 27-19 defeat in their opening Aviva Premiership clash at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.
Two first half tries from prop Soane Tonga'uiha and a further score from his front-row colleague Brian Mujati carried last season's semi-finalists to a deserved victory over their East Midlands rivals but they had to withstand a late comeback from the Tigers, with wing Scott Hamilton crossing for a brace to add to a first half try for Alesana Tuilagi.
Northampton fly-half Stephen Myler suffered a forgettable day with the boot - missing several first half opportunities before he was replaced by Shane Geraghty. The former England pivot gave the hosts an added edge. Leicester's poor start to the campaign was compounded by an injury to their first-choice No.10 Toby Flood, who was forced out of the game in the first half.
Northampton produced all the early attacking endeavour and a great forward drive took them deep inside the Leicester 22 with just two minutes on the clock. The ball was recycled as the visitors scrambled in defence but they could not prevent Tonga'uiha forcing his way over from close range. Hush fell over an otherwise vociferous Franklin's Gardens crowd as Myler stroked over the conversion.
And the hosts hammered home their dominance with their second try just two minutes later, with Tonga'uiha again the beneficiary of some clinical build-up play. The Tongan had winger Chris Ashton to thank for creating the opportunity after the England flyer cut a great line through the Tigers' defence and into the 22 before off-loading to his team-mate for a simple score.
Leicester showed their class by battling their way back into the contest and some slick handling by Hipkiss created an opening for Hamilton out wide but the Kiwi was denied by Saints centre Jon Clarke. His efforts were matched by his pack at the following scrum with Saints eventually conjuring the turnover to clear the ball.
The Tigers were soon pressing again with Flood skipping through the Saints' defence and drawing two defenders before off loading to Tuilagi - but the Samoan was guilty of backing himself in the tackle rather than off loading to captain Geordan Murphy. Further pressure drew a penalty but Flood could not find the target.
Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson tried to put some pace on the ball soon after but was denied by the Tigers' Craig Newby, who was penalised for doing so, but Myler could not punish Leicester further. A superb claim from Foden gave the hosts great field position midway through the half and Flood was the next to feel the wrath of referee Dave Pearson as the Saints turned the screw. Myler's opposite number's indiscretion enabled him to stretch the Saints' lead from the tee.
But the Tigers delivered a swift and impressive riposte. A great scrum laid the platform with some pace from scrum-half Ben Youngs and some quick hands from Murphy creating the opening for Tuilagi who coasted in from the 22 for a try. Flood found his range with the conversion and gave the Tigers' travelling support reason to cheer.
Northampton refused to dwell on the setback with a kick ahead from Dickson putting Ashton away down the touchline and although Murphy was there to tidy up, he was hit hard by the flying winger whose tackle was rewarded with a penalty. Myler couldn't get his angles right with his latest shot at goal and his kicking woes continued moments later when the Tigers were again forced into an error.
Luckily Myler's team-mates were happy to continue to create opportunities for their troubled No.10 with their pressure drawing yet another penalty from the Tigers. But there were more groans from the home crowd as yet another chance sailed wide with Myler struggling for any kind of rhythm.
An injury forced Flood from the game before the break, to be replaced by Jeremy Staunton, who was woefully wide with a drop goal attempt with the last act of the half.
Staunton's own kicking concerns were evident following the re-start with another effort sailing wide of the posts. He was granted another chance following a Saints infringement - this time at the lineout which warranted a final warning from the referee - but again there was no need to trouble the scorers. Myler retained the faith of his captain Dylan Hartley when the next opportunity arose but it was a familiar story for the beleaguered fly-half. Northampton then attempted to inject some pace into proceedings but good ball was wasted as Myler made a hash of a drop goal attempt.
Myler eventually made way for Shane Geraghty who was involved in the game-defining score. His dancing feet stretched the Tigers' defence in midfield and he fed flanker Phil Dowson who stepped in from the wing before finding Mujati superbly for a well-worked score in the corner. Geraghty underlined his credentials by nailing the conversion with arguably the most difficult kick of the afternoon and added a penalty moments later as Leicester hooker George Chuter trudged off to the sin-bin.
Leicester stepped up their work-rate in his absence and drew another penalty, which saw Hartley join his opposite number in the sin-bin, and there was further reward when Hamilton scurried over in the corner for a try after some more great hands from Murphy.
Staunton slotted the difficult conversion to offer hope of a comeback and Murphy and Hamilton combined again just a minute or so later for a try in the opposite corner. The conversion from Staunton went wide before the Saints sparked back into life and threatened to snatch a rare bonus point try against their fierce rivals. But they were eventually denied, as were the Tigers, who were left empty-handed.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.