Leicester claimed the bragging rights with victory in a feisty east-midlands derby that came alive in the second half – leaving Northampton to rue their dismal kicking.
Andy Goode had inspired Leicester to a 12-5 interval lead with the fly-half improving his chances of contributing to England’s autumn schedule with an impressive display.
He slotted four penalties to put the Tigers in the driving seat and enjoyed some fine moments in attack, but Northampton came out fired-up for the second half.
Samoan flanker Paul Tupai crossed for a scintillating team try started by the superb Ben Cohen, adding to the first half touch down from Mark Robinson.
Northampton won the try-count 2-0 and would have won the match too had Robbie Kydd and then Luke Myring not missed all four of their side’s shot at goal.
Only one conversion was tricky with eight routine points going begging in a tight encounter that was always likely to be decided by the narrowest of margins.
Saints missed their former All Black fly-half Carlos Spencer, who had been ruled out with a groin injury, with his replacement comprehensively outplayed by Goode.
Goode’s England team-mates Martin Corry and George Chuter also returned for Leicester and their presence was crucial in a typically fiery contest up-front.
The Tigers’ victory moves them up to third in the Guinness Premiership with Goode emerging as the star of the show, missing just one shot at goal.
He drew first blood with a long range penalty but it was Northampton who created the first try-scoring opportunity in a frantic opening.
David Quinlan broke Ollie Smith’s tackle and fed Kydd but the full back’s pass to Johnny Howard – a late replacement for knee injury victim Sean Lamont – was poor and the chance was lost.
Leicester kept pulses races with Lewis Moody pouncing on a mistake and Goode bursting into space but the England fly-half could not find winger John Murphy.
A late tackle on Smith by Vaughan Going earnt the Northampton debutant 10 minutes in the sin bin and Goode added the three points to compound the error.
Howard made a try-saving tackle on Geordan Murphy as Leicester pounded away at Saints’ line but referee Chris White had spotted an earlier infringement and Goode slotted his third penalty.
It was then Northampton’s turn to pile on the pressure and the breakthrough arrived in the 21st minute when Robinson charged down Scott Bemand’s clearance and crossed.
Kydd missed the conversion and a simple penalty but Goode was enjoying a flawless afternoon with the boot, landing another three points to push Leicester 12-5 ahead.
Both teams became subdued as half time approached but the match burst into life when Corry and Tupai – back from suspension – clashed on the ground, resulting in a warning from White.
The balance had shifted in Northampton’s favour by the time the interval arrived with a series of off-the ball skirmishes cranking up the tension in an otherwise ordinary game.
Goode missed a penalty shortly after and Leicester sufferea setback when centre Dan Hipkiss was shown a yellow card – with Saints taking instant advantage by running in a stunning try.
Cohen – returning after recovering from a rib injury – broke from deep in his own half and combined with Howard to send Kydd dashing down the left touchline.
Kydd was cut off by Leicester’s cover but spotted Tupai charging up on his shoulder in support and the full-back timed the scoring pass to perfection.
Myring had taken over the kicking duties but he could not do better with the conversion.
Leicester sent a succession of penalties into the left corner as they attempted to tighten the screw but Saints drove them back on the last line-out to the delight of the home crowd.
Moments later the Tigers backs appeared to have succeeded where their forwards had failed when they created a clear overlap but substitute Leon Lloyd opted to go alone and a glorious chance went begging. Bemand danced through Saints’ defence and dived over but a magnificent tackle from Cohen knocked the ball from his hands just as he appeared to have scored.
Northampton attempted to snatch the match-winning score but with Leicester enjoying greater possession it was a lost cause.