Martin Corry's face bore the scars of battle after this tremendously hard-fought contest to decide who would secure a place in the semi-finals of the Powergen Cup. Leicester earned the trip to the Millennium Stadium in March, though an improved Northampton side took the Tigers to the wire before Corry turned the match Leicester's way when he charged down a clearance by Carlos Spencer.
It was not the only charge-down - Leicester's Leon Lloyd just beat Steve Thompson to an earlier touchdown, the Northampton hooker having palmed down Geordan Murphy's kick, to save an almost certain try. Corry's effort brought a reward, though, when Shane Jennings grabbed the rebound for a try which edged the Tigers back in front at 19-16 with only 15 minutes left on the clock.
"To be perfectly honest", said Corry, "I didn't see what happened. I was flat out with a mouth full of mud. Sometimes when you charge the kicker it doesn't come off. This time it did, and it was a reward for all our hard work".
It could be an age before Leicester find another Martin Johnson, but until they uncover one the Tigers have in Corry a very able enforcer-in-chief. With a boxer's lower lip and blood oozing from innumerable cuts and bruises, Corry reflected on how difficult it had been to subdue the Saints, who played well above the form they have shown so far in their troubled season.
"In the first half they pinched a lot of our ball," he said. "But Leon's try made the half-time break a lot more comfortable."
There is always more bash then flash in games between these great East Midland rivals, but Lloyd's first try was a gem. Andy Goode set it in motion with a long pass to Murphy, who had come off his wing to knife through the cover and put Lloyd in for the score.
Until then it was mostly Northampton, for whom Mark Robinson scored the opening try. Bruce Reihana tagged on two penalties, making it 11-7 to Saints at the interval.
There was some glitz to come from Spencer, whose deft cross-kick found John Rudd to put Saints back in front after Ben Kay had been driven over from a line-out, Goode adding a second conversion. But Corry, leading his troops from the front with George Chuter, Alex Moreno, Kay and Jennings never far from his shoulder, seemed determined to secure a day in Cardiff. That became a certainty when Lloyd was shunted over for his second try. Goode converted and added a penalty.
Asked afterwards if he thought Leicester were good enough to win the competition, Corry's reply was irrelevant; the answer was on his face.
Leicester: Tries Lloyd 2, Kay, Jennings; Conversions Goode 3; Penalty Goode. Northampton: Tries Robinson, Rudd; Penalties Reihana 2.
Leicester: S Vesty (S Rabeni, 45): L Lloyd, O Smith, M Cornwell (D Hipkiss, 72), G Murphy; A Goode, H Ellis (N Cole, 72); M Holford, G Chuter (J Buckland, 73), A Moreno (D Young, 76), L Deacon (J Hamilton, 66), B Kay, B Deacon (J Hamilton, 66), S Jennings (L Abraham, 59), M Corry (capt).
Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, B Cohen, R Davies, J Rudd; C Spencer, M Robinson (J Howard, 70); C Budgen, S Thompson (D Hartley, 48), P Barnard (C Noon, 71), D Browne, D Gerrard (G Seely, 71), B Lewitt, S Harding (D Fox, 58), D Browne.
Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).
* The Wales centre Gavin Henson failed a fitness test yesterday and was left out of the Ospreys team which won 43-28 against Bristol at the Memorial Ground yesterday. Henson's return from a long-standing groin problem had been a main selling point for the Powergen Cup Group A match, as neither side could qualify for the semi-finals. The ex-All Black full-back Adrian Cashmore scored two tries for the Welsh side.Reuse content