Leicester Tigers have one foot in the LV= Cup semi-finals after tries from Sebastian De Chaves and Laurence Pearce handed them a hard-fought victory over Northampton Saints.
Tries from De Chaves and Pearce put Leicester Tigers on the front foot before Saints winger Howard Packman hit back shortly after the hour mark.
However, there was no late winner for the Saints and either Cardiff Blues or Sale Sharks could now usurp them at the top of Pool 2 on Sunday.
Leicester, meanwhile, now have three wins in as many games and one more will see them safely into the last four of the LV= Cup.
In a high-tempo start a pair of turnovers saw possession switch hands and when Matti Williams was penalised for not releasing his namesake Owen opted for touch rather than a long effort for the posts.
The resulting lineout produced an ominous drive towards the line and De Chaves was the man on hand to pile over with five minutes on the clock, fly-half Williams adding the extras.
A big Dom Waldouck tackle on Williams handed the visitors some impetus, a couple of Will Hooley kicks earning them field position before Tigers could scramble clear.
Northampton got their first points on the board halfway through the first 40 through Hooley’s boot, the fly-half coolly slotting a penalty after the Tigers were pinged at scrum-time.
The Saints continued to grow more into game but a Leicester break almost turned the tables just before the hour, Adam Thompstone and Fraser Balmain making good ground only for Jamie Gibson – heading to Franklin’s Gardens next season – to knock on Williams’ off-load.
The hosts’ second try did come shortly after, however, when a sharp Jack Roberts break allowed the centre to feed Pearce, who piled over – Williams again converting.
Teimana Harrison almost hit back immediately but after peeling off the back of a maul and reaching for the line, the Northampton flanker knocked on.
Leicester, having staved off the visitors before the break, came out for the second half in determined fashion, charging down a pair of Joel Hodgson clearances inside the first ten minutes.
A handful of changes for both sides saw the game’s momentum slow marginally but a pin-point Williams kick to the corner had Northampton under pressure after an hour.
Saints eased the pressure once more before making an overdue foray into home territory and they only needed one opportunity.
Sam Olver – on for Hooley at fly-half – sent a neat grubber kick through the Tigers defence and Packman raced onto it to score in the corner and reduce the deficit to six points.
However, the home side regrouped and ensured there was no quick-fire second, instead making their way up to the other end and extending the lead.
The Saints were penalised at the ruck five minutes from time and Williams sent over a straightforward penalty, moving his side more than one score ahead.
Not deterred from one last effort, a series of Saints pick-and-drives forced Leicester into some dogged defence on their own line, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi and Jordan Onojaife each denied from close range – and that was how it finished.
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