Tigers get East Midland's bragging rights
March 29, 2014
Manu Tuilagi tries to dodge around Luther Burrell
© Getty Images
A flawless kicking performance from Owen Williams saw Leicester beat rivals Northampton Saints 22-16 at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
And there could be fall-out for second-placed Northampton, who suffered another Premiership reversal following defeat against Sale Sharks last weekend, with Leicester's England hooker Tom Youngs having allegedly claimed he was bitten on the hand at a collapsed scrum during the first half. Referee Wayne Barnes consulted television replays and a lengthy delay ensued, but he took no action following inconclusive re-runs.
Centre Anthony Allen's 16th-minute try - converted by fly-half Williams, who also kicked five penalties - ensured east Midlands bragging rights for the Tigers, as they moved third in the table above Bath despite finishing with 13 men following yellow cards for Ben Youngs and Vereniki Goneva.
Northampton, in contrast, never really got going, despite tries by Kahn Fotuali'i and substitute prop Ethan Waller, a Will Hooley penalty and James Wilson penalty, and they also saw skipper and England star Dylan Hartley make a 31st-minute exit clutching his right shoulder.
Youngster Hooley endured a difficult afternoon with the boot, missing three out of four kicks at goal before he made way for Wilson as the hour-mark approached. Wilson took over kicking duties and landed a penalty, yet Saints' attacking threats proved few and far between as too little was seen of juggernaut Wales wing George North and they lacked control from half-back.
Leicester, meanwhile, have not lost a Premiership match since four days before Christmas as tactical controller Williams guided them home through an impressive 17-point haul and 100% goal-kicking return. And former Scarlets player Williams has unquestionably pressed claims to make the Wales squad for this summer's South Africa tour when Warren Gatland's men face Tests against the Springboks in Durban and Nelspruit.
Williams has been at the forefront of Leicester moving effortlessly through the gears, and on this latest evidence, another powerful title charge is well and truly up and running. Saints showed three changes from the side beaten by in-form Sale, with centre George Pisi and Fotuali'i both starting, while flanker Phil Dowson's selection meant England international Tom Wood moving to No.8.
Leicester were again without injured full-back Mathew Tait, so Scott Hamilton continued in the number 15 shirt, and number eight Jordan Crane made his 100th Premiership start for Tigers.
Hooley kicked Northampton into an early lead, but Leicester dominated the opening quarter in terms of territory and possession, with skipper Ed Slater a driving force. Leicester prospered from a 16th-minute scrum, with Slater again prominent before scrum-half Ben Youngs rifled out a floated pass to an unmarked Allen, who crossed wide out. Williams converted from the touchline and then kicked a 20th-minute penalty, with Leicester outstanding value for their seven-point lead.
Another Williams strike made it 13-3, before Northampton's afternoon showed signs of going from bad to worse when Hartley was forced off and Hooley missed a straightforward penalty chance. Northampton, though, cut the deficit just before half-time, capitalising on quick ball from an attacking lineout as Fotuali'i cut inside Leicester's defence and touched down one-handed.
Hooley, his confidence diminishing from the kicking tee, rifled the conversion attempt wide, and Leicester trooped off with a 13-8 interval advantage. Williams extended Tigers' advantage when he completed his penalty hat-trick after 58 minutes, but that strike was quickly cancelled out by a Wilson penalty, teeing up an intense closing quarter that Leicester went into 19-11 ahead after another Williams penalty.
Williams' fifth successful penalty left Saints with a mountain to climb, although the home team collected a losing bonus point, they ultimately fell short. Leicester did not need to be flash or pretty, with their mastery of the basics and outstanding individual displays from the likes of Williams, Slater and prop Logovi'i Mulipola proving too much for Northampton.
Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs collected a late yellow card following a blatant technical infringement, and Goneva followed him off as Saints made their two-man advantage count through Waller's late touchdown before Barnes blew the final whistle with one second remaining on the countdown clock, much to Northampton boss Jim Mallinder's anger.
Niki Goneva saw yellow late on © Getty Images
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