Owen Williams kicked two penalties in the last three minutes to give Leicester Tigers victory in an East Midlands thriller at Franklin’s Gardens and send off head coach Aaron Mauger in style.
Saints crossed for three tries in the first half, Nafi Tuitavake, Ahsee Tuala and Louis Picamoles all going over but the Tigers stayed in the fight, the boot of Freddie Burns and Adam Thompstone’s score making it only 22-16 to the hosts at the break.
And after the break Ben Youngs and Lachlan McCaffrey went over for Mauger’s side – who also saw Mike Williams sin binned after coming on as a replacement – but in the end it came down to the kickers.
Stephen Myler and Owen Williams – the latter on for Burns at half time – traded late penalties but it was Williams who had the final say to lift the Tigers to fourth in the Aviva Premiership Rugby standings although Bath Rugby could reclaim that spot on Sunday against Saracens.
Defeat for Saints puts a real dent in their own top-four ambitions but it was an enthralling topsy turvy clash that ended with a victory for Mauger in his final game in charge.
What a send off!
— BT Sport Rugby (@btsportrugby) March 25, 2017
Tuitavake pounced inside the opening three minutes as Leicester full-back Telusa Veainu misjudged a high ball and Saints’ Tongan centre picked up the pieces to score.
Stephen Myler converted to give the home side an early 7-0 advantage, but Leicester responded almost immediately.
Northampton’s defence was wide open and winger Adam Thompstone burst through to grab his team’s first try.
Burns had the simple task of levelling things up with the easy conversion, but Leicester weren’t even for long.
France No.8 Picamoles produced one of his trademark bursts and offloads to set up Northampton full-back Tuala for a try.
Myler again added the extras, but Leicester were straight back at the Saints door, winning a scrum penalty that Burns landed to cut the gap to four points.
Burns was at it again soon after, slotting another kick after another scrum call went against Saints.
Unbelievable game! Good work lads! 🍻
— MTU (@Manutuilagi) March 25, 2017
However, in open play, the home side boasted the game’s stand-out player, with Picamoles calling the shots.
And the Frenchman soon used his power to score Northampton’s third try, charging over the line after a spell of pressure.
Myler missed the conversion and Burns soon landed a lovely drop goal, making the most of his team’s advantage to continue the back and forth nature of the game.
Saints tried to turn up the heat once more before the break, with a tidy Tom Wood offload starting a move that ended with a penalty, which Myler kicked to make it 22-16.
Northampton thought they had racked up the bonus-point before the break, but Christian Day’s foot was deemed to be in touch as he dived over in the corner.
Leicester were forced to replace Burns and Brendon O’Connor with Owen Williams and Lachlan McCaffrey at half-time, but it was they who came out firing.
Ben Youngs grabbed a score, racing down the left before dotting down, with Owen Williams converting to give the away side a one-point lead.
But Myler was quickly on the mark with a penalty to put Northampton back in front, and the fly-half was at it again with another three points soon after.
Leicester were then reduced to 14 men for 10 of the final 12 minutes as Mike Williams was sin-binned for a no arms hit on Teimana Harrison.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 25, 2017
Myler was to miss the penalty chance that would have put Saints eight points up, and Mallinder’s men were made to pay.
Tigers roared back and McCaffrey scored, with Owen Williams converting to put his team 30-28 up with nine minutes remaining.
Myler again restored Saints’ advantage with a fine penalty attempt, but Tigers were to have the final say as Owen Williams landed two kicks that won the match and sent off departing head coach Mauger in style.
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