The Daily Telegraph - Business
Chris Boyd told it straight as his Northampton side went down to a fifth successive Gallagher Premiership defeat. The Saints director of rugby said the loss to their biggest rivals, Leicester Tigers, in the East Midlands derby at Welford Road was “embarrassing”.
“It is probably the worst performance in two years since I have been here,” Boyd said. “Everybody is down in the changing room and it is going to be a pretty tough job to pick them back up again.”
The key time which saw the Tigers come up trumps on a baking hot afternoon was a 10-minute period at the end of the first half, when their backs-to-the-wall efforts denied Northampton.
Major pressure on the Leicester line resulted in two yellow cards for the home side within seconds of each other, as lock Tomas Lavanini and flanker Harry Wells were accused of deliberately taking down a ruck.
For the second of those, referee Wayne Barnes awarded Northampton a penalty try but, from there until the two Tigers returned to the fray seconds before half-time, the Saints could not break the stubborn resistance of the 13 Leicester men.
“I could have stomached losing the game if we had a great performance but it was a very flat performance,” Boyd said. “So massively disappointed.”
Another reason for the defeat was their multitude of errors in kickable positions that Leicester fly-half Zack Henry lapped up.
Henry was in the stand-off role usually occupied by George Ford, who was not risked, having a niggling injury. But the 25-yearold, in his first East Midlands derby, was sublime.
Geordan Murphy, his director of rugby, was happy enough with the secondstring’s outing, and said: “I think Zack has certainly improved in every game he has played.
Big chance: Zack Henry stood in for George Ford and kicked 20 points
We had not originally pencilled Zack in to play, but we had a couple of bumps and bruises and he took his opportunity well.”
Murphy said he was disappointed to concede at the end, but added: “When you go into a big derby match, usually you would be worried if you had one man in the bin, but we had three in the bin.”
Something had to give as both sides have been on losing streaks since they each beat London Irish within days of each other last month. England scrum-half Ben Youngs, on his 250th appearance, put Leicester ahead early for a lead they would never relinquish. He seized on a thumping tackle from wing Nemani Nadolo on Saints fullback George Furbank, took the ball and ran under the posts.
Saints had gone ahead via a penalty from Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar after three minutes, but they were made to pay dearly for mistakes within kickable range as Henry booted over three in succession to put the Tigers 16-3 up.
Northampton were gifted a golden chance to rack up points when Lavanini and Wells were yellow-carded for pulling down rucks, and Wells’s offence was close enough to the Leicester line for the referee to award that penalty try. But, down to 13 men, the Saints could not take advantage. It was the pivotal point of the match.
With Lavanini and Wells back on, Leicester full-back Freddie Steward struck a huge penalty from almost halfway.
Henry’s fourth penalty put Leicester 12 points to the good after the break before their ruck offences on their own line struck again and No 8 Hanro Liebenberg was, this time, the yellow-card recipient.
Replacement prop Paul Hill’s dash through a static Leicester midfield, with Biggar converting, handed Northampton a chance of victory.
Yet the sublime Henry stroked home a lovely dropped goal from distance and his fifth penalty sealed Leicester’s sixth Premiership win this season.
Saints’ replacement scrumhalf Henry Taylor dashed over in the last seconds for a try which Biggar converted to salvage a losing bonus point.
Wayne Barnes is one of the best referees in the business and he certainly was not standing for any nonsense from Leicester’s Nephi Leatigaga. The replacement prop (above left) stormed into a brawl as the two sides had a disagreement in the second half, taking particular exception to Courtney Lawes. Barnes, though, was unimpressed – as the transcript from his conversation with the captains – caught by the BT Sport cameras – showed: “Six and 10 are having a bit of a pull and shove, that’s fine,” said Barnes (who is pictured in the top right of the above image). “But 18 has come in and escalated everything, chucking people and telling people he wants to have a fight in the car park afterwards. That’s not really acceptable. It was going to be a scrum, it’s now a penalty against No 18, just have a word with him please and calm him down.”
Barnes was not the only referee to have his say yesterday, with Matthew Carley telling Sale’s scrum – which is largely made up of South Africa internationals, with Faf de Klerk at scrum-half – that he speaks Afrikaans, just in case they tried to pull a fast one. It is unclear at this stage whether or not Carley was telling the truth, but it was a good day for the officials’ words to be caught on television.