The end of Northampton's hopes came, as it does so often to opponents of Leicester, via a line-out close to the line in the 72nd minute, a catch and then a drive.
Martin Corry was the target jumper, the others took shape around him as they have done countless times before, and as they marched forward they smuggled the ball to a flanker. Usually it is Neil Back, but in his absence Josh Kronfeld accepted the score, a fitting end to a man-of-the-match performance in which the former All Black stole, spoiled and slowed ball down in defence, supported runners in attack and even made a couple of line breaks himself.
This was vintage Tigers rugby, strong up front and always in control of the ball. And they can absorb losses to international matches better than most clubs, a point made by their director of rugby, Dean Richards.
"We didn't have second- team players playing," he said. "Those brought in have played a lot of rugby. Adam Balding has played England A, so has Will Johnson; they are all first-team players. We use the squad system throughout the season and at times like this we feel the benefit of it."
The benefit was a complete emasculation of the Saints' pack, which suffered even more in the line-out because of Dan Richmond's poor throwing.
Minus Steve Thompson, Tom Smith, Matt Stewart, Steve Williams and Budge Pountney, they were unable to give their backs any attacking ball, a point exemplified by the 30 minutes that it took them to get deep in Tigers' territory in the second half.
"It's going to be a tough few weeks," admitted Northampton's head coach, Wayne Smith. "We ended up with a Wanderers side out there and they were more physical, bigger, stronger and more experienced." Also, the Tigers defended like Titans. The vastly experienced Australian Rod Kafer organised the defensive line from inside-centre, so on the occasions when Kronfeld had failed to poach the ball the runners were repelled or turned over.
"I thought our defence was excellent," said Richards. "We struggled at the start of the season but we had injuries to key players in the back line. Now they are starting to play together regularly and are working well." The win and strength in depth is ominous for the rest of the league.
The Tigers were missing key men as well in Martin Johnson, Ben Kay, Neil Back, Lewis Moody and Austin Healey, but totally dominated a club only one point behind them in the table. And things may get worse for Saints, as their Australian lock Mark Connors dislocated his shoulder and was forced to leave the pitch.
Northampton: N Beal (B Reihana, 52); J Sleightholme, M Tucker, J Leslie (capt), O Ripol; P Grayson, J Howard (I Vass, 57); R Morris, D Richmond, C Budgeon (D Sturgess, 57), J Phillips (R Hunter, 65), M Connors (M Miles, 67), G Seely, A Blowers, M Soden (D Fox, 57).
Leicester: G Murphy; L Lloyd, O Smith, R Kafer, S Booth; C McMullen (S Vesty, 54), H Ellis (J Hamilton, 52); P Freshwater, D West (capt; G Chuter, 65), F Tournaire (D Garforth, 61), L Deacon, M Corry, W Johnson, J Kronfeld, A Balding.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).
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