The annals of this Midlands rivalry go back to 1880, but yesterday's encounter will not rank high among them. Ironic, therefore, that Leicester enjoyed their first capacity crowd of the season, a splendid day in late autumn and, at the end of it all, the satisfaction of victory.
This is, of course, the first game in the domestic programme affected by international calls and England's management will be relieved that Ben Youngs came through the 80 minutes unscathed and ready to be involved against Fiji next Saturday. But that should not account for the chapter of errors, forced and unforced, which blighted the game.
The biggest question for Leicester, after forcing their way back into the top four of the Aviva Premiership, is managing the development of one of their bright young jewels, George Ford. The sharp intake of massed Leicester breath as Ford sent a series of eminently kickable penalties wide of the posts was a reminder of the expectation on the 19-year-old's slim shoulders.
Three went adrift in the first half, two more in the second as well as a couple of touch finders; had Ford kicked his goals, Leicester would have enjoyed the cushion of a comfortable lead rather than living on their nerves in the last quarter. "George could become a world-class player but he's 19 and this was a learning experience for him," Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, said in a stout defence of the teenager. "We will let him develop at his own pace. He's got a great rugby brain. There won't be anyone more disappointed than George."
The first of Ford's missed goals came moments after he had been flattened by Samu Manoa, who has a six-stone advantage in size. Manoa helped Northampton to an advantage in the rolling mauls, traditionally a Leicester speciality, but it was no consolation as his side slipped to their third successive premiership defeat.
Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, was philosophical: "We stopped their attacking game but we didn't get as much momentum as we would have liked," he said, though Northampton enjoyed an advantage at the lineout despite the excellence of Graham Kitchener, the Leicester lock. There was also an effective return by Calum Clark, an England squad flanker until his 32-week suspension following an unpleasant incident with Rob Hawkins in last March's LV Cup final against Leicester.
Indeed, Northampton took a 6-0 lead in the opening quarter before Leicester took over everywhere except on the scoreboard. They dominated possession, their scrum recovered from an uncertain start but it was deep into time added on for injuries at the end of the first half before Ford kicked the goal that levelled matters.
Within two minutes after the interval, Leicester led with the game's only try. The replacement of Scott Hamilton by Vereniki Goneva may have been enforced by injury but the Fijian made an instant impact: playing with greater direction, Leicester forced a lineout in Northampton's 22 and, a couple of phases later, Ford's inside pass found Goneva and Matt Smith, in support, stretched over for the try.
Northampton were fortunate to retain a full complement as long as they did: another referee might have given a yellow card to Mike Haywood – an increasingly effective replacement at hooker for the injured Dylan Hartley – for his clumsy challenge on a mid-air Geordan Murphy. As it was, they ended with 14 men after Ryan Lamb was sent to the sin bin for obstruction on Anthony Allen, when they had every chance of success after Lamb added two more penalties to his first-half brace. It was Murphy who drew Greg Garner's attention to Lamb's offence but whether this is what the new protocols on the use of TV evidence were designed for remains open to debate.
Leicester G Murphy (captain); S Hamilton (V Goneva, 41), M Smith, A Allen, N Morris; G Ford, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni, L Deacon (E Slater, 34), G Kitchener, S Mafi, R Thorpe, J Salvi.
Northampton T May; K Pisi (V Artemyev, 54), G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott (L Burrell, 74); R Lamb (sin bin 74), M Roberts; S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 63), M Haywood, B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 60), S Manoa, M Sorenson, C Clark, G J van Velze (R Oakley, 71), P Dowson (captain).
Referee G Garner (Warwickshire).
Pens: Ford 3
Pens: Lamb 4Reuse content