Leicester had arrived at Franklins Gardens on the back of an 18- match unbeaten run and on top of the table. The Tigers left Northampton with their tails between their legs and their heads bowed, having been beaten by a side which was prepared to scrap for everything - and did.
To be fair, Leicester played some marvellous rugby. A plentiful supply of good ball for the first 50 minutes or so had helped them to take the lead, but they were never able to take control of proceedings at any stage. That inability to rule the roost meant that Saints were able to stay in touch until the turning point of what was an enthralling encounter. It came in the 54th minute, a moment of coruscating brilliance orchestrated by the Northampton full-back Nick Beal, who sliced through the Tigers defence before sending his outside centre Gregor Townsend racing into the corner in a dazzling burst of speed for an exhilarating try.
Paul Grayson's subsequent conversion from the left-hand touchline took the Saints' points tally to a sweet 16 and, more importantly, level with Leicester. When the Tigers were caught four minutes later slinking stealthily offside, Grayson marched Northampton in front with the resultant penalty. The crowd went wild but for the next 15 minutes or so the Tigers snarled their way back into contention, John Liley's reliable boot levelling matters once again.
It could have finished all square but for an infringement in the final minute by a member of the Leicester pack. The penalty was a good 50 yards from the posts. But Grayson is not one to be deterred by distance. Up he stepped and banged the ball goalwards. It wavered. The home fans began to groan before it hit an upright and dropped over the bar. Northampton were back in front and, although they had to ride out some tense injury time, the Tigers had been tamed.
Although the match finished in driving drizzle which must have numbed hands it was little excuse early on for the amount of spilled ball, particularly from Northampton. There were three good reasons for players to avoid unforced errors - the watching British Lions management. Ian McGeechan, the Lions coach, had to be there in his role of Northampton's director of rugby. But he was joined in the stand by Jim Telfer, his assistant on the summer tour to South Africa, and the manager Fran Cotton.
All three saw plenty of cameo performances and an entertaining match overall. Grayson, who finished with a personal haul of 17 points from five penalties and that solitary conversion, grew in confidence as the match progressed. There was nothing one-dimensional about his approach. Grayson's performance showed enough quality to deserve consideration for an England recall.
Leicester, much maligned for a forward-oriented game, were not averse to running the ball, particularly early on. The fact that their flanker Neil Back scored both their tries was not a result of power play from the pack. They repeatedly thundered at the Northampton defence from out wide, it was just that the Leicester backs could not always find a way through. The loss of the right-wing Steve Hackney, replaced by Springbok fly-half Joel Stransky after half an hour, did not help their cause.
Northampton: N Beal; J Bell, G Townsend, N Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, B Taylor; N Volland, A Clarke, G Walsh, J Chandler,J Phillips, S Tatupu (J Cassell, 76), B Pountney, T Rodber (capt).
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney (J Stransky 28), W Greenwood, S Potter, R Underwood; R Liley, A Healey; G Rowntree, B West, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, W Johnson, N Back, D Richards (capt).
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).Reuse content