NEVER under-estimate the galvanising effect of a local derby.
For the second time this season Northampton bounced back from an absolute shellacking against Saracens with a wonderfully gutsy and committed performance to beat the old enemy Leicester Tigers and, frankly, it was nothing less than they deserved.
Led by a razor sharp back row in which Jamie Gibson and Teimana Harrison competed for MOM honours and backed up in all quarters with a similar die-hard attitude, Saints refused to buckle and fired enough shots of their own to snatch their first win at Welford Road in 11 years.
Defeat for Tigers doesn’t end their play-off hopes but it’s getting very nervy. Realistically they need two wins in their last two games against Newcastle and Sale.
A lively, compelling first half started unfortunately for Saints when, straight from the kick-off, Rob Horne, their Australian skipper, clattered into Graham Kitchener with a fierce would-be tackle and managed to knock himself out.
A long delay, nearly ten minutes followed, as Horne was treated and taken to hospital and then it was initially all Leicester before Saints took the lead against the run of play with an excellently taken try by Ben Foden after good work by Stephen Myler and Piers Francis.
Much encouraged, Saints stretched their lead with a penalty from Myler before Tigers hit back with a quality score by Telusa Veainu after a storming break and off-load by Ellis Genge, who enjoyed an energetic first half.
Ford converted before Tigers took the lead with an opportunist try by Matt Toomua, who touched down after Kitchener had charged down a clearance kick by Cobus Reinach. There was a just a hint of offside about Kitchener at the ruck but, after consultcleanly ing the TMO, the score was allowed.
Reinach, who had probably lingered too long on that clearance kick anyway, dusted himself off and scored an outstanding try by way of a reply for Saints on the half hour.
First Kitchener had been spotted impeding a Saints player off the ball which enabled Myler to drill the penalty deep into Tigers territory for a 5m lineout.
Saints won the ball and, as Reinach handed onto Harrison, it was odds-on the hard running back rower would mount the charge but Harrison called Leicester’s bluff and passed instead inside to the speedy Reinach who stretched for the line to complete a fine score.
After the break the intensity really cranked up and it was Saints who gave themselves valuable breathing space with a nicely taken try by Ahsee Tuala as he brushed off George Ford after sharp work around the breakdown by Reinbach again.
Thereafter it was a major backs to the wall effort as Ford chipped away with three penalties, but Saints preserved a six-point cushion with another Myler penalty. They enjoyed a bit of luck, Tigers blew a two man overlap in the corner with a poor pass from Toomua, but make no mistake Saints earnt this win.
Dangerman: Ahsee Tuala breaks through to score in Northampton’s win over Tigers
Through the gap: Ahsee Tuala hands off George Ford to score for Saints
Opportunist: Matt Toomua dives on the loose ball to score Leicester’s second try