Dickson leaves England calling card as Tigers receive mauling

Northampton 27 Leicester 19

The vast majority of England's senior management team – four-fifths of them, to be precise – congregated at Franklin's Gardens yesterday to watch the first match-up between two of the heavyweight hitters in this season's Aviva Premiership. How they must wish they had spent their Sabbaths in church, or plumbing in the new dishwasher, or watching Miss Marple on the telly. Most of the things they wanted to see failed to happen, while most of their nightmares came to pass. And by way of making things worse for Martin Johnson and Graham Rowntree, those Leicester hard-heads of old, their successors found a way of losing against a team who spurned 18 highly kickable points.

Toby Flood, the current England No 10, broke down with a knee injury in stoppage time at the end of the first half and limped gingerly from the field, the pain distorting his choirboy looks in a way that might have inspired Picasso himself. "He's had a bang on his left medial ligament," reported Richard Cockerill, the champions' director of rugby. "It's not ideal, but let's not get carried away. He'll have it scanned and talk things through with the doctors over the next 48 hours."

Johnson, Rowntree and company also saw two of their elite hookers, Dylan Hartley and George Chuter, incarcerated in the cooler for rank indiscipline at the tackle area – precisely the kind of misbehaviour that will feed the All Blacks' notions of their own invincibility if repeated at Twickenham in November. In addition, they witnessed a lovely late cameo from one of the players they have ditched, Shane Geraghty, who gave the front rank of the Leicester defence a dose of the heebie-jeebies every time he touched the ball. Indeed, the outside break with which he set up Brian Mujati for the decisive try early in the final quarter had an iridescence all of its own.

Yet the individual who really upset the applecart was Lee Dickson, the Northampton scrum-half, who had clearly swallowed an entire bottle of "busy pills" before kick-off. Up against Ben Youngs, the new first-choice at international level and easily the most talked-about player of the year so far, the 25-year-old generated such energy amid the hurly-burly that Leicester, denied access to a straitjacket and a room with rubber walls, could find no means of quietening him down. Years ago, Dewi Morris played his rugby in a similar style – and he ended up as a Test Lion.

If Jim Mallinder, who runs the show at Northampton, flatly refused to criticise Youngs as a way of highlighting Dickson's claims to representative honours, he did not hold back in praising his man. "I'd put him right up there," he said when asked to place the former Newcastle half-back in the batting order. "Ben Youngs is a very fine player who offers a great deal, but Lee suits our game. He's Mr Energy for us, not just on the field but around the place generally. I think England should take a look at him, as I'm sure they will after that display."

It was Dickson, among others, who set an early tempo that so surprised the champions, they found themselves 14 points to the bad inside five minutes. Soane Tonga'uiha, the Tongan prop who impacted so heavily on the Premiership last season, broke what may conceivably be new ground by scoring two tries in that short space of time, the first round the edge of a ruck close to the Leicester line, the second in free-running style after being put away by Chris Ashton.

Stephen Myler, the dead-eyed marksman from rugby league, converted both and added a penalty before falling apart at the seams. Penalty after penalty went west – or east, or north, or south – and when he attempted to capitalise on another long period of Northampton pressure by dropping a goal midway through the third quarter, he missed that as well. Cue Geraghty, from stage right. Immediately, the Saints had more to their armoury than an impassioned pack and a scrum-half who made even these forwards look like cold fish. Taking the ball straight to the Leicester line, he asked new questions of a team who had struggled to answer the old ones. Mujati's try was no more than the gifted midfielder deserved.

At this stage, Leicester had only a converted first-half score from Alesana Tuilagi to show for their torment: when Geraghty followed up his points-creating run with a simple penalty from in front of the sticks, the visitors were 27-7 down and flirting with humiliation. They did no more than flirt, however. History tells us that the Tigers never play less than the full 80 and sure enough, they ransacked the remnants of their competitive spirit to claim two late tries through the ever-impressive Scott Hamilton, one in either corner. Had Jeremy Staunton, on the field for the stricken Flood, converted the second of them, they would have left for home with a losing bonus.

They were aided and abetted in this by Mallinder's decision to play the substitution game at the last knockings. With Hartley already in the bin and the influential Phil Dowson alongside him as the sacrificial lamb at scrum-time, Northampton voluntarily divested themselves of the hard-tackling centre Jon Clarke, the ball-carrying No 8 Roger Wilson and, scarcely believably, Dickson. Every coach in Christendom now talks of rugby as a "22-man game" – or, up here in Europe, a "23-man" one – but it is still playing fast and loose with common sense to weaken a team through choice when opponents as bloody-minded as Leicester are on the other side of halfway.

In the event, Mallinder escaped the worst consequences of his tactical fiddlings. But one of these fine days, a leading coach will pay heavily for overplaying his hand, just as Robbie Deans of the Wallabies copped it with both barrels from his critics after underplaying it against South Africa in Pretoria nine days ago. Substitutions? They can be more trouble than they're worth. Or maybe less.

Scorers: Northampton - Tries: Tonga'uiha 2, Mujati. Conversions: Myler 2, Geraghty. Penalties: Myler, Geraghty. Leicester - Tries: Hamilton 2, Tuilagi. Conversions: Flood, Staunton.

Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro 73), J Downey, B Reihana; S Myler (S Geraghty 56), L Dickson (R Powell 73); S Tonga'uiha (R Dreyer 73), D Hartley (capt, B Sharman 73), B Mujati (T Mercey 75), C Lawes (M Easter 81), C Day, P Dowson, T Wood, R Wilson (C Clark 73).

Leicester: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, D Hipkiss (M Tuilagi 63), A Allen, A Tuilagi; T Flood (J Staunton 40+3), B Youngs (J Grindal 73); M Ayerza (B Stankovich 64), G Chuter (B Pienaar 80), M Castro Giovanni (D Cole 56), C Green (E Slater 64), G Skivington, C Newby (J Duffy 73), B Woods, T Waldrom.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea