Tigers power to tenth title as Hartley sees red
May 25, 2013
Leicester down Northampton for Premiership glory%]
The Leicester Tigers stormed to their tenth Aviva Premiership title thanks to a 37-17 victory over 14-man Northampton Saints who had Dylan Hartley dismissed for dissent on the stroke of half-time.
Match Analysis by ESPNscrum's Graham Jenkins
The England hooker was dismissed during first-half injury time by referee Wayne Barnes for appearing to swear in the official's direction. Hartley had been warned about his conduct just two minutes beforehand. He could now face a minimum six-week ban. Rugby Football Union disciplinary bosses are unlikely to take a lenient view, considering he has already served three previous suspensions during his firebrand career.
Hartley can expect a disciplinary hearing early next week. The Lions leave London for Hong Kong on Monday, with Hartley currently one of three hookers among a 37-man squad. Lions head coach Warren Gatland, a strict disciplinarian, could now launch an immediate search to replace Hartley. Ireland hooker Rory Best would be favourite to join a trip that is highlighted by three Tests against Australia.
An incident-packed final saw Leicester skipper Toby Flood not last the first half because of concussion, while Northampton assistant coach Dorian West, speaking during a pitchside television interview, accused Leicester boss Richard Cockerill of "intimidating" match officials.
The game ultimately went Tigers' way as wings Niall Morris and Vereneki Goneva, lock Graham Kitchener and Lions centre Manu Tuilagi scored tries, with Flood booting a penalty and conversion and his replacement George Ford kicking four penalties. But Northampton, despite being down to 14 men for half the contest, conjured tries as Stephen Myler, Ben Foden and Lee Dickson all collected touchdowns, with Myler adding one conversion.
Leicester arrived in the final for a ninth successive season, and they paraded a starting line-up featuring six Lions. Hartley was the solitary Lion in Northampton's ranks, but Saints' impressive semi-final victory over Saracens confirmed genuine title pedigree despite finishing fourth following the 22-game regular league season.
Leicester, though, flew out of the starting blocks, scoring 10 points in eight points with such authority that Northampton were left wondering what had hit them. Flood kicked a penalty, and then his defence-splitting inside pass sent Goneva clear. Centre Anthony Allen took the move on before Flood teased Saints' defence and timed his scoring pass perfectly to Morris. Flood landed the conversion, and Leicester - 36-8 conquerors of Northampton when the teams last met two months ago - were off and running.
But their opponents' response was impressive, hitting back when Dickson took a quick penalty and centre Luther Burrell acted as a strong link to send Myler over. Leicester then suffered a couple of injury scares, firstly when Lions flanker Tom Croft landed on his shoulder after he was lifted in a lineout, before Flood came offf second best following a crunching Courtney Lawes tackle.
The Leicester coaching staff were left fuming by Lawes' hit, and Flood needed five minutes of treatment until he went off for concussion checks, with Bath-bound Ford taking over from him. Flood's departure temporarily left Leicester disorganised, and the Northampton pack camped inside Tigers' 22 through a series of scrums as it was confirmed Flood would not be returning.
The ESPN panel pick through the pieces of the Premiership final%]
But Leicester soaked up the pressure and forged their way back downfield when full-back Mathew Tait sprinted clear into space, and Ford, on his final Tigers appearance, kicked Leicester 13-5 ahead. Northampton, frustrated not to have converted territorial supremacy into points, thought they had claimed a second try five minutes before half-time after Foden powered over the line, but Tigers lock Kitchener got underneath him to prevent a clear-cut touchdown.
Television match official Graham Hughes took a long time deliberating before ruling in Leicester's favour, but both Foden and his watching rugby director Jim Mallinder could not believe it. But matters then disintegrated for Saints. Myler, having been told by Barnes, that he could not put a 22-metre restart into touch on the full during injury time, promptly did so and the official went back infield for a scrum.
Northampton then infringed, Hartley lost his cool and he received a straight red card, trudging off as Ford kicked the penalty for a 16-5 interval advantage. Foden cut the arrears with a try early in the second half, but that was cancelled out by Kitchener's touchdown before resilient Northampton struck again when Dickson crossed and Myler converted.
It was heroic stuff in adversity from Northampton, yet Leicester's numerical advantage had to tell eventually, and scores from Tuilagi and Goneva finished Saints off.
Leicester celebrate clinching their 10th English crown © Getty Images
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