For some extraordinary reason this was the only Premiership match in the country yesterday. The schedulers and fixture secretaries got things badly wrong, but if the only show in town happens to be a Midlands derby it's not a bad option. In the event it was not a vintage meeting between the old rivals, although they did manage to wage a battle royal up front.
In front of a captive audience Northampton were once again exposed as the poor relations, although it was a desperately close thing. The Saints will be kicking themselves that they failed to kick their goals after scoring two tries but in stark contrast Andy Goode kicked five penalties out of six for Leicester, who just about did enough to earn the points. The result might have been different had the New Zealander Carlos Spencer been playing on what was his birthday. Instead the former All Black withdrew with a thigh strain and his young replacement Luke Myring failed to make a lasting impact.
Myring failed with a couple of kicks at goal and Robbie Kydd was also off target. The upshot is that although the Northampton pack acquitted themselves, particularly with a magnificent defensive operation in the second half, in the end it was a dreadful anticlimax.
Kydd failed to exploit a David Quinlan break in only the second minute, the full-back throwing an absolutely desperate pass which should have found Ben Cohen on the left wing. Such chances were few and far between.
Leicester were guilty of a similar mistake when Goode did remarkably well to find his half-back partner, Scott Bemand, with a one-handed reverse pass but the No 9 then delivered a wild ball.
Paul Grayson, the Saints director of rugby, had said this was a match for "cool heads'' and the first sign of a betrayal of that request was exhibited by Vaughan Going in the eighth minute. The centre committed a high and late challenge on Ollie Smith, conceding another penalty to Goode, whose second successful kick made it 6-0. To make matters worse Going, having signed for Northampton from Bristol, was making his debut for his new club and not only did he concede three points but he received a yellow card for his sins. All in all, it wasn't a great day for Going, who also copped a leg injury and was replaced late in the second half.
In the frantic skirmishes that unfolded there was no lack of enterprise but for the most part the execution was poor. Goode's third penalty, after 16 minutes, increased Leicester's lead but then Northampton's prospects increased dramatically when Bemand had a clearance kick charged down near his own line by his opposite number, Mark Robinson, who took full advantage of a kind bounce to touch down after 20 minutes.
Still there was no respite from the boot of Goode, who was on target with another penalty, mysteriously awarded to Leicester after Daniel Browne came crashing out of a line-out. The penalty count was heavily in Leicester's favour and when Northampton won an award from a really advantageous position, ironic cheers echoed around Franklin's Gardens. However, the noise was soon replaced with a collective groan as Kydd missed the penalty attempt. Still, up front the battle was warming up nicely and the referee, Chris White, frequently had to step between the warring parties, particularly when the Samoan Paul Tupai was involved. Most of the forwards were up for this engagement, and Tupai more so than anybody.
Trailing 12-5 at half-time the Saints were forced into a fierce rearguard battle. Their line-out began to unravel but Goode finally missed with a kick at goal before the home crowd were on their feet again. Cohen was in the process of making a quick drop-out from his 22 when Dan Hipkiss knocked the ball out of his hands. The result was 10 minutes in the sin bin for the Leicester centre and Northampton almost immediately exploited their superiority with a beautifully created try. Kydd was involved twice in a sweeping move which also featured Quinlan and Going and between them, down the left flank, they created an opening for the local hero Tupai, who was able to cross near the posts. The conversion by Myring, which would have levelled the scores, was pulled wide. The stand-off is not a kicker of the ball, especially out of hand, but when he goes for goal his action is far too quick.
Leicester, without showing too much in the creative department, should have at least got a try for all their pressure but Leon Lloyd wasted a huge overlap and Bemand, after darting through a gap, lost the ball over the line as he was tackled by Cohen. A fifth and final penalty from Goode in the 69th minute was Leicester's solitary reward in a brutal second half and it confirmed that their old ruthless streak is strangely missing.
Northampton: R Kydd; J Howard (R Laird, 75), V Going (C Wyles, 74), D Quinlan (capt), B Cohen; L Myring, M Robinson (I Vass, 70); T Smith, D Hartley, P Barnard (C Budgen, 73), Damien Browne, C Short (D Gérard, 54), P Tupai (M Easter, 71), Daniel Browne, D Fox.
Leicester: S Vesty; G Murphy, O Smith, D Hipkiss (P Burke, 65), J Murphy (L Lloyd, 39); A Goode, S Bemand; M Ayerza, G Chuter, M Holford, L Cullen, B Kay, L Deacon, M Corry (capt), L Moody (S Jennings, 58).
Referee: C White (Cheltenham).Reuse content