Foden and Diggin too hot for tame Tigers

Northampton 17 Leicester 13: Saints' passion warms capacity crowd in only match to survive the big chill
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The Independent Online

The temperature hovered around freezing but Northampton found plenty to warm their supporters in a pulsating East Midlands derby.

Two first half-tries from the wing Paul Diggin and another accomplished performance from the multi-skilled full-back Ben Foden, which he capped with a superbly-taken second-half try, helped the Saints extend their unbeaten home record to 28 games. That sequence stretches back to March 2007, before the club's relegation to National League One.

Foden set up Diggin's first try with a cleverly-angled run and showed his versatility by switching to scrum-half in the closing stages, after Lee Dickson cramped up. The former Sale player's ability to fill more than one position has made him a strong contender for the England Six Nations' squad which is due to be announced on Wednesday. This was a second impressive performance in a row and it can have done his international prospects no harm at all.

"Ben backed up last week's performance against Bristol really well," said Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby. "He's a talented individual. Ben picks lines really well, he's got pace, strength and the ability to fend off that first tackler and stay on his feet, and a good kicking game as well. I don't quite know what [the England team manager] Martin Johnson is looking at – there are a couple of good full-backs out there already – but I think that he has got to come into consideration."

Northampton's win should have been more emphatic but their fly-half, Stephen Myler, had a rare off-day with his kicking which prevented his side from turning their superiority into a more commanding lead.

"It's nothing we are worried about, he just had a bad day at the office," Mallinder said. But Myler's profligacy allowed Leicester to stay in the game despite achieving parity only in the scrums. They appeared to be rattled by the ferocity of the home side's play in the first 25 minutes.

Leicester's acting head coach, Richard Cockerill, said his side had lacked control and had struggled with the way the referee, Wayne Barnes, had policed the tackle area. But the former England hooker refused to use the uncertainty surrounding the future of the club's head coach, Heyneke Meyer, as an excuse for such a poor display.

Meyer is in South Africa, where his wife's parents are both seriously ill. A decision on his future is expected a week today. Leicester are continuing to send out messages of public support to the former Blue Bulls coach, but privately they are planning to start the search for their sixth head coach in as many seasons.

"The result today is nothing to do with Heyneke being away," Cockerill said. "We prepared well, the senior players worked hard this week along with the coaching staff and it is not as big a disruption as people might want to make out.

"I don't want to make excuses. Northampton took the game to us, they played well here today and they don't have a long unbeaten record here for nothing. It was frustrating for us. If they had kicked their penalties and conversions they might have been out of sight by half-time."

Cockerill will be able to take some consolation from the way that Leicester capitalised on Myler's misses to cause Northampton some late anxiety. The England fly-half Toby Flood scored all Leicester's points, including a second-half try when he got on the end of a rare, sustained attack.

However, the game was really decided inside the first 25 minutes, when Northampton launched wave after wave of attacks and Leicester did little but defend grimly. Sean Lamont was denied a try by a forward pass early in a sharp short-side move but then Foden sliced open the defence and delivered a scoring pass to Diggin, who squeezed over in the corner.

Diggin then came off his wing to act as an extra centre and collect Myler's inside pass for a second try. But for all their pace and possession, Northampton were only four points clear at the break.

Foden's try sealed the win, although the biggest cheer of the evening, ironic though it was, came when Myler converted from in front of the posts.

The quality of the contest matched the state of the pitch, which was in surprisingly good condition. While the other two scheduled Premiership matches yesterday were frozen off, Northampton were able to play the third game in eight days on a pitch which even staged a reserve match last Monday.

That they were able to do so despite several sharp frosts was a credit to the expertise of the groundsman, David "Piggy" Powell, and the pitch covers which the club have invested in.

Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin, J Clarke, J Downey (C Mayor, 77), S Lamont; S Myler, L Dickson (B Reihana, 72); T Smith (S Tonga'uiha, 53), D Hartley, E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe (capt), J Kruger, M Easter, D Hopley, S Gray.

Leicester: G Murphy; J Murphy (S Hamilton, 40), S Rabeni, A Mauger (capt), M Smith; T Flood, J Dupuy (B Youngs, 61); B Stankovich (M Castrogiovanni, 55), G Chuter, J White, M Wentzel (M Corry, 55), B Kay, T Croft, B Deacon, B Herring (C Newby, 11-23; 61).

Referee: W Barnes (London).