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Match Reaction: Leicester Tigers 30 Northampton Saints 27

Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill insists the returning Manu Tuilagi will be carefully nurtured back to full fitness after the centre made his comeback in the win over Northampton Saints.

Tuilagi, who had been sidelined for no less than 15 months with a serious groin injury, was only called up to the Tigers bench an hour before kick-off.
The 24-year-old completed 25 minutes, during which he produced some fantastic defensive work on his own try-line before Freddie Burns sealed victory with the last kick of the game.
And Cockerill believes while Tuilagi will only get better, he won’t be thrown straight into the thick of the action as a precaution.
"I am not sure how far off full fitness he is in 80-minute terms," Cockerill said.
"He played 25 or so minutes today, and he is remembering how to play rugby again. Hopefully, there will be no reaction to that.
"He will play next week, and we will build his fitness up gradually. At this point, I am not sure he is ready to play Test match rugby.
"He needs to play for Leicester, we need to get him fit and make sure he is 100 per cent right before he starts playing Test matches.”
The Tigers had raced into a 21-0 lead after converted tries from Matt Smith, Lachlan McCaffrey and Owen Williams.
But Saints fought back as Teimana Harrison, George North and Jamie Gibson all touched down to see the scores level at 27-27 with five minutes to play.
And while Burns’ late penalty sealed the win Cockerill admits the visitors deserve credit for the fight they put up.
“Credit to them for getting back into it, but credit to our players for the first 30 minutes and then for digging themselves out of a hole they probably shouldn't have got themselves into.
"Good sides win when they do some average things, and we did some average things today but we found a way to win, however fortuitous that may or may not have been."
It could have been a different story had a Paul Hill score not been disallowed for a high tackle by Luther Burrell in the build up.
And Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder believes that proved to be a pivotal moment, despite his side’s dreadful start.
“My reaction is clearly one of disappointment," Mallinder said. "In the first half, we had a terrible 20 minutes – they were good, but we were terrible for 20 minutes – and you should not go 21-0 down at Welford Road.
"But we came back into it. We really got some good momentum in the second half and that [high tackle penalty] was a massive moment.
“I am pretty sure if that [try] had been allowed then I think we would have gone on and won the game."

Leicester Tigers: Veainu (Harrison 71); Betham, Tait, Smith (Tuilagi 51), Thompstone, Williams (Burns 32), B Youngs; Ayerza (Mulipola 69), T Youngs, Cole, De Chaves (Pearce 77), Kitchener, Fitzgerald, O’Connor (Croft 5), McCaffrey   
Not used: Thacker, Balmain
Northampton Saints: Foden; Elliott, North, Burrell, Collins, Hanrahan (Myler 65), Dickson; A Waller (E Waller 65), Haywood (Williams 78), Hill, Lawes, Matfield, Gibson, Harrison (Day 65), Dickinson (Wood 25)
Not used: Denman, Kessell, Mallinder
Leicester Tigers 30 Northampton Saints 27

Tries: Smith, McCaffrey, Williams
Conversions: Williams 3
Penalties: Burns 3

Tries: Harrison, North, Gibson
Conversions: Hanrahan 2, Myler
Penalties: Hanrahan, Myler

Attendance: 25,849
Referee: Wayne Barnes

Boxing Day Sale! Click here to grab a bargain with 20% off tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May at Twickenham.

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