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Tigers edge out Saints

14 Apr 2006
Tigers edge out Saints

England’s Commonwealth Games hero Tom Varndell grabbed two tries as Northampton’s revival was ended at Franklin’s Gardens.

Varndell scored what proved to be the winning try in a fiercely contested derby after 63 minutes.

He was returning to the Leicester side after missing four games through his commitment with England Sevens, which took in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne where he helped his country claim the silver medal.

Defeat for Northampton was only their second in the Guinness Premiership this year and allowed Leicester to tighten their grip on a top-four spot.

But the visitors had to survive the final three minutes with only 14 men after Michael Holford was yellow-carded.

Leicester head coach Pat Howard made five changes after the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat against Bath, a match in which Tigers could not find a way through against 13 men in the closing 10 minutes.

Among the casualties were Harry Ellis and Andy Goode, who formed England’s half-back pairing in the final game of the RBS 6 Nations Championship against Ireland last month.

Austin Healey was recalled at number 10 in Goode’s absence to partner Scott Bemand at scrum half and Varndell was back on the wing.

His recall was vindicated after only three minutes when he scorched in for his eighth try in the Premiership this season and his 15th in 24 games in all competitions.

Leicester winger Alex Tuilagi gathered Carlos Spencer’s attempted clearance and set off on a galloping 50-metre run which took him into Northampton’s 22, before the ball was switched to the right wing and Varndell burst through a gap to score.

Sam Vesty converted and Spencer’s fortunes did not improve. He was yellow-carded along with Leicester prop Graham Rowntree after six minutes following an exchange of blows.

Northampton reduced the deficit in their absence with Bruce Reihana kicking penalties after 12 and 17 minutes.

Vesty missed a simple chance to extend Leicester’s lead when he missed a penalty after 21 minutes, and Northampton went ahead eight minutes later when Daniel Browne burst through a gaping hole to score.

Reihana’s conversion made the score 13-7 and Leicester responded with a stunning try from Tuilagi after 35 minutes.

He gathered Healey’s pass at his bootlaces and set off on a scorching 55-metre run to the line with Reihana failing in a last-ditch bid to stop him.

Vesty’s conversion edged Leicester back in front at 14-13 at the break.

Reihana’s two penalties in the opening 10 minutes of the second half put Northampton in front at 19-14 before Vesty’s penalty after 53 minutes trimmed the gape to two points.

Vesty then made the break which led to Varndell stepping over in the left-hand corner for the decisive try after 63 minutes. Vesty added the conversion to put Leicester 24-19 ahead.

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