Tigers put one foot into the LV Cup knockout rounds with a 17-8 win at home to bitter rivals Northampton Saints. Without the likes of Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes this was a quieter affair than normal with no major incidents of foul play. More's the pitty as it would have livened up the game.
Tigers opening half hour secured the win with two muscular tries from the beefy pair Sebastian de Chaves and Laurence Pearce. De Chaves' effort came after only 5 minutes; Tigers had turned down a shot at goal in blustery conditions to go for the corner and set an attacking maul. Northampton resisted just enough and Tigers broke left towards the post. A noticable burst from Jack Roberts set the ruck and de Chaves burst through a weak tackle to crash over for his first try in Tigers colours.
Northampton dragged 3 points back after a scrum infringement but Tigers extended their lead after half an hour. Jack Roberts received the ball in space roughly on his own 10m line and ran with it. He scorched past two men, beating on for pace on the outside and gliding past another on the inside. Faced with the full back he kicked on again and tried to round him for the try. He didn't make it but did manage to stay infield, just, and set the ruck. Tigers pounded with the forwards and it was Laurence Pearce who ducked and spun and dived and reached out for the try line, slamming the ball on the whitewash for the 5 points.
Williams converted both scores for a 14-3 lead.
After that try Tigers did not find the cutting edge of their attacking play again. Northampton grew into the game and it took some heroic defence from Sam Harrison to force a knock on from Teimana Harrison as he tried to finish a good break with a try. From that position Northampton huffed and puffed at the Tigers line but never quite managed to get over it. As the clock ticked over 40 minutes Northampton had scrum after scrum, heft after heft at the Tigers line but Balmain, Thacker and Rizzo stayed strong. Eventually forcing the knock on and the relief of half time.
In the second half Tigers never really got going. Unable to pick apart Northampton's rush defence or use the forwards as a wrecking ball to crash through it Tigers relied on Williams and Catchpole's little nudges to maintain a dominance on the game's territory.
A Jack Roberts break early on was trucked up twice more by the forwards but with the line begging Harrison fumbled at the base of a ruck.
One attacking penalty was kicked to the corner and move attempted; thrown to the back Tigers quickly shifted the ball to a dummy maul at the front before releasing Barbieri on the peel. Unfortunately the referee ruled an obstruction, with no replay's available I am none the wiser to the accuracy of the call or the culprit.
Northampton replaced their half backs Hodgson & Hooley, who had been struggling to clear the ball past Tigers large forwards, with Alex Day and Sam Olver, son of hooker John. The replacement pair were effective, creating a try with Saints first real incursion into the Tigers 22 of the second half. Olver poked a ball through the Tigers' blindside defence and Howard Packman, son of legendary Saints winger Frank, won the foot race for the score.
That spelled a nerve racking ending for Tigers as they continued to dominate the territory but could not control the ball or drive back the Saints' defence. With just 5 minutes remaining Tigers cooled their fans nerves; a dynamic break from Laurence Pearce was followed up by a barnstorming run from Mulipola causing a Northampton forward to be trapped at the bottom of the ruck. With the penalty Owen Williams made no mistake and a 9 points lead established.
To their credit Northampton fought back but with a two score lead Tigers defence was under no real threat, as at the end of the first half the Tigers withstood an Northampton onslaught and sealed a 17-9 victory.
Depending on the result of the Wasps-Cardiff game at the Ricoh this afternoon Tigers may well have already secured a LV semi final spot. If Wasps fail to win both their remaining games, next week they face Northampton at the Gardens, Tigers will win the group. If we beat Cardiff next week we secure a home semi final, potentially against Northampton again!
Man of the Match: Laurence Pearce.