Leicester demonstrated their title credentials on Saturday with a hard-fought 29-15 victory over Northampton at Welford Road.
An injury-hit Leicester demonstrated their title credentials on Saturday with a hard-fought 29-15 victory against Northampton at Welford Road.
Former Ireland fly-half Jeremy Staunton kicked 19 points, including conversions of tries from Lucas Amorosino and Anthony Allen which broke Saints' resistance.
Northampton scored two excellent first-half tries, both stemming from menacing runs from Bruce Reihana, but lacked their familiar cutting edge without England pair Ben Foden and Shane Geraghty and managed only a second-half penalty from Stephen Myler.
Leicester took time to settle and were seven points down after five minutes when they allowed Reihana to launch a counter-attack, supported by Myler and Chris Ashton, which gave lock Christian Day a clear run to the line.
Myler converted but Staunton settled Leicester with two well-struck penalties before Argentina international wing Amorosino scorched over from long range after Allen intercepted a sloppy pass from Myler.
Staunton's conversion was followed by two long-range penalties, with a glaring missed penalty from Myler sandwiched in between.
But Northampton finished the half as they started it with Reihana clattering down the right wing and Ashton supplying the finish.
Instead of growing in confidence, Northampton were hesitant at the second half and a fumble from Myler under a high ball from Hamilton allowed Leicester to build the pressure.
Punches were exchanged when the two packs went down for a scrum and referee David Pearson spoke to the captains.
Northampton flanker Neil Best was fortunate to escape with a lecture from the referee after a high tackle on Martin Castrogiovanni, but that allowed Staunton to slot his fifth penalty.
The lead was reduced to seven points again when Myler found the target with a penalty and Leicester had a let-off when Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson had his claim for a try ruled out by the television referee for being in touch before he grounded the ball.
That proved a crucial decision as Allen dashed Northampton's hopes of salvaging a bonus point when he latched onto a stray pass and went over for the interception try which Staunton gleefully converted.
Tries: Amorosino, Allen
Con: Staunton 2
Pen: Staunton 5
Tries: Day, Ashton
Leicester: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Lucas Amorosino, 13 Anthony Allen, 12 Aaron Mauger (c), 11 Johne Murphy, 10 Jeremy Staunton, 9 James Grindal, 8 Brett Deacon, 7 Ben Pienaar, 6 Geoff Parling, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Richard Blaze, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Boris Stankovich, 19 Calum Green, 20 Dan Hemingway, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Andy Forsyth, 23 Will Hurrell.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Jon Clarke, 12 James Downey, 11 Bruce Reihana, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Neil Best, 6 Phil Dowson (c), 5 Christian Day, 4 James Cannon, 3 Soane Tonga'uiha, 2 Brett Sharman, 1 Regardt Dreyer.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Jon Vickers, 19 Mark Easter, 20 Scott Gray, 21 Alan Dickens, 22 Barry Everitt, 23 Joe Ansbro.
Referee: Dave Pearson