An 18-point haul from fly-half Stephen Myler reignited Northampton Saints’ play-off challenge as they eased to a comfortable victory over Leeds Carnegie at Headingley.
The result sees the Saints move back into the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-off places and reaffirms their title ambitions after a recent wobble. Leeds responded with a try by back-row Danny Paul and eight points from the boot of stand-off Adrian Jarvis, but it now leaves the Yorkshire side rooted to the foot of the table having played a game more than nearest rivals Newcastle.
Buoyed by last week’s stunning victory over London Irish, Leeds came out with intent and their early pressure was rewarded with a Jarvis penalty. With hooker Steve Thompson away on England duty, Carnegie’s lineout struggled and after Scott Freer’s throw was stolen, full-back Michael Stephenson dropped a Myler kick to allow the stand-off to follow up for his own converted try.
But the hosts reduced the gap when Jarvis booted over his second three-pointer, before Myler responded with one of his own when Leeds were adjudged to be offside. Saints then had the chance to extend their advantage but Myler’s long-range penalty attempt drifted wide.
It was Leeds who had the next chance but, with Saints full-back Shane Geraghty out of position, centre Luther Burrell decided to offload when a kick through was the better option. With half-time approaching the home side thought they had a breakaway, but as flanker Hendrie Fourie streaked clear, he was called back for a knock-on.
Straight from the kick-off in the second half, Courtney Lawes showed no ill-effects from his recent injury lay-off by crushing scrum-half Scott Mathie but it failed to spark an error-ridden encounter.
Leeds then had the perfect opportunity to get their first try of the match but their set-piece problems came back to haunt them once again as Northampton pilfered the ball from a five-metre scrum.
Buoyed by their ferocious defence, Saints went on the front foot and won a penalty 40 metres out which Myler converted. The away side’s stand-off then extended that advantage with another three points before they scored the game-defining try.
After a barrage of attacks, Myler popped an inside ball for winger Paul Diggin to run onto and evade several missed tackles before touching down under the posts, with the same man adding the extras.
With seven minutes left, the hosts gave themselves hope when Paul powered through some weak tackling for a try which Jarvis converted, but Jarvis then missed the chance to grab a losing bonus point when his penalty hit the post in the dying seconds.