RUGBY: Inside the Tigers’ Den - Derby win for Leicester
The derby always creates some memorable moments and Saturday’s 19-11 victory over Northampton Saints was no exception.
Key moments the yellows, the turn overs and the bonus point denying kicks.
So let’s start with the yellows, which is the only place you can really start considering it took less than two minutes for Northampton centre Luthur Burrell to be given a 10 minute rest, having made a high, swinging arm tackle on 20 year-old full back George Worth.
With the visitors to Welford Road down to 14 Leicester took advantage. Freddie Burns kicked a penalty and then showed off the very best of his alert attacking game, when he switched the direction of the attack at the very last second, which scrum half Jono Kitto did well to react to, and then released a sumptuous flat pass into the hands of winger Adam Thompstone who continued his rich vein of form to score in the corner.
Burns converted just to put the finishing touches on a fine couple of minutes.
The advantage then tipped in favour of the Saints when Thompstone was carded for taking George North out in the air.
The big Welsh winger came down on his side, if it had been his head Thompstone could well have seen red, but despite that he appeared to hit his head on the turf and looked to have been unconscious on the ground. However he passed the head injury assessment and was back on the field six minutes later.
It took just a minute of Leicester being down to 14 for them to concede their only try of the match, with Mike Haywood just reaching out to touch down from a driving maul which looked to have been initially brought down short.
Stephen Myler hit a pair of penalties either side of a three pointer from Burns to make it 13-11 to Leicester at half time, in a typically tight derby.
And things only got closer in the second half when defences were on top. That’s when it became about the turnovers.
Crucially Tigers conceded just seven turn overs to Northampton’s 18, in a real sign of Leicester’s improved defence. Off course Saints were missing their two best flankers in Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison, both with England.
The first memorable turnover came from Harry Thacker, who replaced club captain Tom Youngs before kick off - with the former England man suffering back spasms again.
The ball popped out the back of the ruck and he swooped on it, picked the ball up and sped off down-field, beating several defenders.
With Youngs injured Ed Slater wore the armband and did so proudly, playing a pivotal role in the game. None more so than when he won a turn over in the closing moments with Leicester practically camped on their own line.
Then with the last kick off the game Owen Williams rubbed salt into the raw Northampton wounds to deny them a losing bonus point.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “It wasn’t mean, it was perfect. It’s the nature of rivals.”
“We’re deadly rivals but they’re a good club, Jim’s [Mallinder] got a good squad, but today was about winning and just chipping away at the top four. We needed to dig in at the end, because it was game on. All these games are pivotal in your season, if we lost today we’d drop back into that fifth, sixth, seventh, group.
“But we won today and we’ve catapulted ourselves back up.
“We’ve got to go to Exeter next round, and we know how tough that is, then Saracens at home and Wasps away.
“We’ve got a really tough run, but I just wish that we could perhaps show that spirit when we are attacking to get over the line and finish the game a bit earlier.
“Because, when we really needed to at the end, we showed what we are about, defensively, and the commitment was great, but sometimes we lacked that accuracy earlier in the game.”
Burns said: “I think we are happy with the win. Performance wise we weren’t quite there today, we didn’t quite have the accuracy we wanted, but when Saints come to town it’s all about getting the win, so the crowd will go home happy.
“We will enjoy tonight and we will go on to Munster next week.”
That’s right it’s a return to Europe for the next week, starting with a trip to Limerick.
While Burns may not have been happy with the performance Tigers led statistically in almost every column, with 61 percent of possession, 64 per cent of the territory, 91 metres more gained in attack than their opponents and five more defenders beaten (15).
Earlier on Saturday England completed a perfect year with a 37-21 victory over Australia, their fourth of the season over the Wallabies.
Ben Youngs once again had an impressive game at scrum half, scoring an opportunist try with a quick tap penalty and a brilliant dummy as part of a man of the match performance.
The reason for Youngs’ upturn in form - well according to England head coach Eddie Jones it’s giving up the sweets and chocolates and losing a few pounds to help him play the quick, sharp game he requires of a number nine.
Leicester prop Dan Cole was the other Tiger in action at Twickenham.