By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
Leicester remain top of the Aviva Premiership after this hard-fought win over Midlands rivals Northampton at Welford Road.
A few flashes of brilliance from Ben Foden aside, it was a game for the purists with the two packs fiercely competitive both in the set-piece and the breakdown – and it was Leicester’s strength up front that saw them close this game out comfortably.
Northampton started the game with a bang, Ben Foden sprinting down the touchline to score in the first minute, but Leicester ended the half 11-10 in front thanks to the boot of Toby Flood and an archetypal forwards try from Louis Deacon.
In the second half, however, the Tigers superiority up front told and they were awarded penalties time and again at the scrum while their ability to snaffle Northampton lineout ball provided them with yet more possession.
Flood’s boot again came to the fore – he managed to put a horrific miss late in the first half to the back of his mind – and Marcos Ayerza crossed for the only try of the half. It came from after a strong run up the middle from Thomas Waldrom; the ball was recycled and Ben Youngs passed to the Argentina prop, who trundled over.
Northampton’s best chance came from a neat interplay between Foden and Paul Diggin, whose kick downfield was fumbled by Geordan Murphy and allowed the wing to collect the ball and launch another attack, but the move only resulted in a Saints penalty.
In fairness, neither back-line sparked into life. Foden troubled Leicester when he made breaks out wide but Saints simply didn’t have enough ball in the second half to put the hosts under pressure.
The Tigers for their part played intelligently, keeping Northampton pinned in their own half with a strong kicking game and generating momentum with strong drives from their forwards. They will be concerned about the lack of cohesion in their back-line, however. There will have been too many dropped balls and poor passes for the coaches liking.
There is concern, too, for England coach Martin Johnson with both Chris Ashton (quad) and Courtney Lawes (knee) forced off injured in the first half while Shane Geraghty potentially fractured his eye socket just seconds into his appearance as a replacement and Geordan Murphy had to be carried off on a stretcher after hurting his ankle.
Dylan Hartley’s performance might also have Johnson frowning. Not only were several of the Saints hooker’s lineout throws picked off by Leicester but his temperament is still questionable. He tends to get fired up too easily, getting into an early tussle with Manu Tuilagi, and it is in a cauldron like the Millennium Stadium, where England open their Six Nations campaign against Wales, that his temper could boil over and cost his country dearly.
That’s for a few weeks, though. For now, it’s all smiles for the Tigers with a win over their arch rivals and a place at the top of the table while Northampton will be looking to make their two league games in hand.
Leicester (11) 27: Tries: Deacon, Ayerza. Con: Flood. Pens: Flood (5).
Northampton (10) 16: Try: Foden. Con: Myler. Pens: Myler (3).