Saints, despite former All Blacks star Carlos Spencer’s high-profile debut, were a huge disappointment and posed little threat to a Tigers side whose forwards proved superior in every department. Leicester could even afford fly-half Andy Goode – last season’s Premiership top points scorer – to endure a nightmare afternoon with the boot, as he missed six of his first seven shots at goal.
England World Cup heroes Johnson and Back might no longer be part of the playing staff, but they would have revelled in Tigers’ opening tries from lock James Hamilton and prop Michael Holford as both scored following mighty forward drives.
Wing Alesana Tuilagi added a breakaway score before the break, and when he carved Saints open to set up centre Dan Hipkiss’ 44th-minute touchdown, it ensured a bonus point and condemned Northampton to a lengthy damage-limitation exercise.
Wing Tom Varndell scored Leicester’s fifth try deep into injury time, underlining that Tigers, once again, should not be too far away come trophy time next May. Spencer could almost have been excused losing interest, such were the lamentable efforts of his forwards, and with Goode eventually finding his range to finish with two conversions and a penalty, it proved a miserable experience for the gifted Aucklander.
Tigers defied Rugby Football Union wishes by fielding England captain Martin Corry in their starting line-up, even though Twickenham’s version of an 11-week rest period for elite English Lions players meant he could not play a full game (more than 40 minutes) until September 17.
Corry was joined in the Tigers pack by summer signings Alex Moreno, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings, but Northampton chose to omit Lions hooker Steve Thompson from their 22. Spencer was the centre of attention from a Saints perspective, yet rugby director Budge Pountney also cast an eye to the future by fielding two 19-year-old academy prospects in hooker Dylan Hartley and flanker Alex Rae.
Spencer made a bright start, teasing and tormenting Leicester’s defence through his trademark box of tricks, but Leicester should have established a promising early lead. Rookie goalkicker Bruce Reihana missed a long-range penalty chance for Northampton, yet there was no excusing Goode’s inaccuracy as he drifted four penalty shots wide during a 12-minute spell.
To compound his frustration, Goode also failed to convert Leicester’s opening try of the Premiership campaign, a typical Tigers forward effort that saw their pack steamroller from a line-out and enabled Hamilton to touch down. Goode was far more of a threat in open play, looking to exploit gaps around the forward fringes, but even Spencer caught the kicking plague, badly slicing a kick into touch after Goode and Reihana missed seven shots at goal between them inside the first 23 minutes.
Northampton found themselves under increasing pressure from the Tigers pack, and their cause was not helped when former Lions prop Tom Smith received a yellow card for dangerously tipping Cullen out of a line-out. It was cynical stuff by Smith, yet indicative of an increasingly troubled Saints side as Leicester swarmed all over them.
Tigers added a second try seven minutes before the break. Another imperious forward surge suggested limited ambition perhaps, but it proved mightily effective and young prop Holford was a grateful beneficiary. Even when Saints tried to mount an attack, it produced a catastrophic result, with Tuilagi sprinting 60 metres unopposed after Northampton fumbled possession in midfield.
Goode continued to miss kicks, but Leicester still found themselves only one try away from a bonus point as half-time approached. Hipkiss made certain of a maximum five points shortly after the restart, and with the game won, Tigers coach Pat Howard took off Corry on 49 minutes. Varndell’s try – after a 63rd-minute Goode penalty – was the final scoring act of a desperately one-sided derby, and it is already a case of back to the drawing board for Saints, who tackle Bath’s juggernaut pack next weekend.