Northampton earned the early-season East Midlands bragging rights as tries from props Soane Tonga’uiha and Brian Mujati paved the way for an opening-round Aviva Premiership Rugby win over champions Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens.
Tonga'uiha crossed twice in the opening five minutes as Saints made a blistering start to lead 17-0 before Alesana Tuilagi's converted try got the visitors on the scoreboard before the break. Leicester were left facing an uphill task, however, when Mujati touched down on the hour mark and while Scott Hamilton crossed twice late on, and Stephen Myler lost his radar, the hosts held on.
Three debutants began their new careers in front of a 13,500 capacity crowd with the Saints calling on flanker Tom Wood for the first time while lock George Skivington and Thomas Waldron made their bows for the champions.
It was Wood who sparked the Saints' first score after only two minutes, soaring to catch a lineout which Northampton drove, in Leicester style, for the visitors' line. The initial drive was halted, but once loosehead Tonga'uiha got his hands on it, nobody could prevent him touching down on the line.
Within three minutes, the formidable prop had struck again. Chris Ashton's running line through the heart of Leicester's defence was brilliant as was his pass, sending Tonga'uiha galloping clear of the cover to score. Myler converted both, leaving Northampton's bitterest rivals with their jaws on the floor.
Leicester thought they hit back when Hamilton flung himself at the line on the right following an excellent passing sequence involving Toby Flood and Dan Hipkiss. But Jon Clarke got under the wing and referee Dave Pearson ruled no try after consulting the TMO.
Tuilagi cost Leicester a try when he went for broke on the left when a pass inside would have left Geordan Murphy clear. And when Leicester's pressure finally earned a penalty, Flood fired it wide in the 16th minute.
Having made a searing start, Saints were now having to show their defensive mettle, and it was impressive as Tigers mounted a succession of attacks. Craig Newby conceded a foolish penalty under Pearson's nose, tackling Lee Dickson before retreating 10 metres, but this time Myler's long-range penalty was off target.
Myler made amends in the 24th minute, a close-range penalty that knocked another dose of stuffing out of a Leicester team who had shown enough to suggest a score was not far away. Their championship credentials came to the fore three minutes later as Ben Youngs combined with Murphy who armed Tuilagi to score on the right. Flood added the conversion to calm Leicester nerves.
Myler hooked a penalty wide on the half-hour, but again he received a quick opportunity to erase the memory. This time, however, his miss was a poor one and potentially costly as that made it nine points missed against merciless opponents.
And his kicking-action deteriorated further in the 35th minute, a fourth miss that let Tigers off the hook as their indiscipline could have been more heavily punished.
England team manager Martin Johnson looked concerned as Flood limped out of the game shortly before the break, replaced by Jeremy Staunton, but otherwise he had plenty to be pleased with, not least the form of Ashton, Ben Foden, Dylan Hartley, Ben Youngs and Courtney Lawes.
Leicester had an opportunity to reduce the arrears, but Staunton's kick faded past the post just one minute into the second half. Leicester were, however, on the front-foot and it was Northampton's turn to defend their line in depth. Pearson warned Saints captain Hartley after they had conceded a fifth penalty in as many minutes, but again Staunton fired wide, catching the kicking-bug that afflicted both Flood and Myler during the first half.
Poor Myler fluffed a fifth penalty, then dropped a simple high ball as his confidence drained from him, leaving Saints with no option but end his agony and replace the fly-half with Shane Geraghty.
And on the hour, the England fly-half broke past Dan Cole, found Phil Dowson whose pass right to Mujati left the tighthead prop thundering up the line to score. Geraghty then ended the hoodoo by firing over the conversion from wide out.
Things got worse for Leicester after 64 minutes when George Chuter was sin-binned for ball-killing in front of his posts, and Geraghty made no mistake. But Hartley was down the tunnel shortly afterwards, also binned for ball-killing as Leicester tried everything to crack the home defence.
Hamilton finally found a gap 10 minutes from time, albeit in the right-hand corner, after great hands by Murphy and Staunton broke his duck, steering over the conversion from the touchline. And when Hamilton roared in on the opposite wing three minutes later a Tigers comeback looked likely, but Saints held on.