Fly-half Freddie Burns held his nerve at the death, kicking Leicester Tigers to a narrow victory over Northampton Saints in a thrilling East Midlands Aviva Premiership Rugby derby at Welford Road.
The Tigers had led 21-0 at one stage in the first half with three converted tries, however a spirited Saints fight-back had the scores level at 27-27 with time almost up.
But a late penalty conceded by Courtney Lawes allowed replacement Burns to seal the win for the hosts from straight in front.
The Tigers made a pre-match statement in naming Manu Tuilagi on their bench in place of Vereniki Goneva, while Dylan Hartley was replaced by Matt Williams in Saints’ replacements.
Leicester also welcomed back England front-row duo Tom Youngs and Dan Cole, while Owen Williams started at fly-half for the first time since December 12.
Leicester made an electric start count as Matt Smith profited from a smart turnover inside the Saints half, selling their defence with a cute dummy before crossing.
Williams made no mistake with the extras, while his opposite number JJ Hanrahan, who was preferred to Stephen Myler, somehow skewed a penalty wide from close range minutes later.
The Tigers’ early forward dominance was paying dividends as they earned a penalty from a well-executed driving maul.
Williams opted for the corner with Saints then helpless to prevent another score as a powerful catch and drive was finished off by man of the match Lachlan McCaffrey in the right-hand corner.
Another successful strike from Williams saw the lead stretched to 14-0 after 22 minutes and it got even better for Richard Cockerill’s men when Williams himself grabbed the next score.
Some exceptional hands from Graham Kitchener in the build up saw Leicester keep the ball alive and a few phases later, a trademark Ben Youngs break through a gaping hole in the centre of Saints’ defence saw the scrum-half find Williams, who converted his own try.
Saints eventually got on the scoreboard just before the half-hour mark when McCaffrey was penalised for not rolling away and Hanrahan this time didn’t miss from dead in front.
The influential Williams was then forced off after feeling the full force of a Courtney Lawes knee when attempting to tackle the England lock, Burns coming on in his place.
Northampton did shift some momentum back just before the break when, from an attacking lineout five metres from the line, flanker Teimana Harrison touched down.
Hanrahan then converted from out on the left touchline to leave the Saints trailing 21-10 at the break.
Again it was the Tigers who were on the front foot from the restart, but they were undone when George North capitalised on a handling error from Tom Youngs to score under the posts.
Youngs couldn’t hold on to a pass from brother Ben and Jamie Gibson jumped on the loose ball to find North, who ran the ball in unimpeded from his own 22 – Hanrahan adding the extras.
Paul Hill thought he had put Saints ahead for the first time in the game not long after when he touched down after a breakaway but the try was disallowed after a high tackle from Luther Burrell on Peter Betham in the build up.
Tuilagi was introduced on 52 minutes for try scorer Smith to an almighty roar, while Burns kicked two penalties in quick succession shortly after to give the Tigers some breathing space.
Saints came back at them though and after Cole was sent to the sin bin for a side entry the visitors kicked to the corner in search of another score.
And although Leicester’s defence held firm on their own try-line on that occasion, Jim Mallinder’s men did close the gap in their next attack when Gibson, against his former side, somehow emerged from a maul with the ball and was able to touch down, Myler converting for 27-24.
A 75th-minute penalty from Myler then drew Saints level and although a Burns drop goal flew wide, he didn’t pass up the opportunity to win the game with the last kick.
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