Premiership: Tigers and Saints equally matched in slips and sins

The good and bad was served up in 19-19 draw at Welford Road

Leicester and Northampton served up good and bad in their 19-19 draw at Welford Road – pulverising contact in and after the tackle, overlaps missed in the red zone, dissent – and now they head to Ulster and Castres respectively to discover whether they are good enough in Europe.

The referee, JP Doyle, showed Leicester’s sometime England second-row Louis Deacon a yellow card during a ding-dong second half on Saturday. A four-letter outburst had cost Northampton’s captain, Dylan Hartley, dear in May’s Premiership final between these teams. Deacon’s language this time was less industrial but Doyle was heard to tell the champions’ captain, Toby Flood: “He came screaming over at me, demanding what I do – unacceptable.”

It proved Doyle’s resolve in a match that showed how many marginal calls the officials are faced with. He had already decided Courtney Lawes, Deacon’s opposite number who was having a tremendous match of big tackles and constructive running, was going to the sin bin, too, for lying on top of Niki Goneva after halting a break by the Fijian. It was the cue for a woeful final 10 minutes for Northampton that included Flood’s penalty for the Lawes illegality followed by a try for Ed Slater converted by Flood to level the scores.

So there was no first win for Northampton at Welford Road since 2007, but no ninth win in a row in the East Midlands derby for Leicester, either – although that might have been the outcome if Jordan Crane had kept control as a last-minute Leicester scrum motored forwards, rather than allowing Saints’ scrum-half Lee Dickson to nick the ball.

Slater, who had scored in the 74th minute from a superb flat pass by Leicester’s replacement scrum-half, David Mele, summed up the Tigers’ feelings: “We put ourselves in a vulnerable position in that last 10 minutes, when Deacs got sin-binned – but those things spur us on.”

Jim Mallinder, the Northampton head coach, considered one loss in five Premiership matches – three away to Harlequins, Gloucester and Leicester – a solid start to the season. “When you’ve picked up two points at Welford Road, it’s not the end of the world,” said Mallinder. “Credit to Leicester – Toby Flood was outstanding in that last 15, 20 minutes. But our team played well, we defended comfortably and we’ve had a tough run, so we’re doing all right.”

Luther Burrell’s shoulder injury may keep him out of Northampton’s trip to the French champions on Saturday – and was untimely for England too with the centres Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi already ruled out of next month’s three internationals – but Sam Dickinson at No 8 is driving the Saints on. It may be overdoing it just yet to describe Dickinson as an English version of the All Blacks’ Kieran Read but, with his dynamic ability to eat up ground from a standing start, the former Rotherham player offers something different to his positional counterparts Billy Vunipola of Saracens and Gloucester’s Ben Morgan.

Leicester were missing nine experienced players – including five first choices – to Northampton’s one (albeit the important second row Christian Day).

Burrell was forced off with a shoulder injury which could have a major impact on his England chances Burrell was forced off with a shoulder injury which could have a major impact on his England chances  

But Flood was worried nevertheless that one training session in the six-day turnaround to Friday’s match in Belfast might not be enough to correct the errors in ball retention and distribution that allowed Northampton to lead 19-9 with a 12-phase try by Alex Corbisiero and a conversion and four penalties by Steve Myler. “We talked about physicality but didn’t get into our normal rhythm of how we play,” said Flood. “It seems to always be when we have the ball that we make these errors, and that’s my role, to make sure everything’s ticking.”

It looked worrying when Flood was unsteady on his feet in the closing stages, considering his recent record of concussion, but the England fly-half dismissed it as one of those things that “happens 20 times a year”.

He has played at Ulster’s Ravenhill ground only in a pre-season match, having missed Leicester ’s 41-7 loss there in January last year through injury.

“I think it’ll be an absolutely unbelievable atmosphere, and we’ve got to meet the challenge head on,” said Flood. “Ulster are an outstanding side and if you give them momentum, just like Northampton, they’ll crucify you. It’s a massive challenge for us, to rest up, look at things on video more than anything else and manage ourselves.

“Obviously without world class players in certain positions it really does affect you but there’s something to be said for how the guys responded to that. We spoke before the game, it’s about who’s in the changing room, rather than who’s not. You listen to the Northampton guys and I think they’ll be absolutely devastated they let a 10-point lead slip.”

It was an absorbing match as long as you weren’t looking for broken-field magic – no long-range gallops from George North here – or flashy line breaks. When Northampton found themselves compromised at the scrum early on they said ‘fine, we’ll have a go at you with our driving maul’. The scoreline was 3-0 to Northampton – a penalty by Steve Myler, from 50 metres – when an offence closer to the Leicester posts gave Hartley a decision to make. Northampton preened themselves, said ‘pah!’ to the idea of going 6-0 up and kicked for the line-out. But Leicester held the drive after Tom Wood’s catch from Hartley’s throw and Saints were unable to get the ball to the ground to have the scrum put-in.

It did not feel definitive at the time but for all Northampton’s advantage in territory, and going through the phases, there was a suspect body language as the minutes ticked away that intriguingly calls into question whether they are quite ready to assume the mantle of champions.

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all