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Leicester clinch dramatic title

25th May 2013 16:59

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Racing away: Manu Tuilagi

A drama-filled Aviva Premiership Final saw Leicester Tigers lift the title with a 37-17 victory over Northampton Saints at Twickenham.

Northampton captain Dylan Hartley was handed a straight red card for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes before half-time - putting the England hooker's spot on the Lions tour in serious doubt and further tarnishing his battered reputation.

Leicester had thundered out of the blocks in the opening quarter, cantering into a 10-0 lead with Toby Flood masterfully pulling the strings. A couple of seismic hits on Flood from England team-mate Courtney Lawes then forced him to withdraw, denting Leicester's momentum before Northampton self-destructed.

The 2011 Heineken Cup finalists never lost hope, scoring two tries in a stubborn act of survival in the second-half but simply didn't have the legs to compete with a hungry Leicester side who ran in tries through Graham Kitchener, Manu Tuilagi and Vereniki Goneva.

Flood opened the scoring after five minutes when Northampton were pinged for slowing the ball down at the ruck, as Leicester showed ambition early on by using the wide channels and looking to offload through Anthony Allen.

That ambition then bore fruit as Niall Morris finished off a wonderful opening try, crossing in the right-hand corner after fine work in the build-up from Goneva and Toby Flood.

Northampton, swaying after going 10-0 down with less than ten minutes played, desperately needed to respond and their chance came after Samu Manoa isolated Tuilagi at the breakdown, winning a penalty to set up a line-out in the Tigers 22.

Stephen Myler duly delivered, finding himself on the outside of Luther Burrell after Lee Dickson's quick tap to cross in the corner, dragging the Saints back into the match.

Played at a frenetic pace, the game was abruptly halted when Flood received lengthy treatment after a combination of a Courtney Lawes tackle and the knee of Leicester team-mate Dan Cole left him floored. Adjudged to be a penalty to Leicester and with Flood still woozy, Ben Youngs stepped up to take the penalty but his kick strayed wide.

Another monster tackle by Lawes on Flood this time saw the Leicester fly-half brought off for the Bath-bound George Ford, thrusting the 20-year old into his biggest game to date.

His opening kick, straight into touch, was not a positive omen but Leicester remained in front and when Mathew Tait burst away from within his own half their second try looked imminent. However, the Tigers settled for a penalty.

Saint could have changed that story dramatically had Ken Pisi had more time and space as he roared for the line, but the Samoan was bundled into touch and Leicester cleared their lines.

It was nearly only a temporary reprieve. Northampton's back three combined to bundle Foden over in the opposite corner to Pisi, but sharp work from Graham Kitchener prevented the full-back from scoring.

Ford missed a chance to extend Leicester's lead with a penalty from the scrum, and so it remained at 13-5 at the interval. Or so it seemed until Northampton imploded.

Looking for half-time, Myler's dropout flew straight into touch resulting in a scrum in midfield. Having already been warned by referee Barnes for backchat, Hartley unleashed a burst of inappropriate language at the official after Leicester were awarded a penalty, with Barnes duly issuing Hartley a straight red card.

Ford chipped the easy three, but all eyes were on Hartley as his actions saw his Lions hopes go up in smoke.

The question was whether Northampton would rally or crumble, and they answered it with a bang at the start of the second half. Foden burst onto James Wilson's pass and this time touched down to narrow the gap to six points.

The possibility of a frankly absurd comeback was raised but then momentarily quashed by clinical Leicester, lock Graham Kitchener hitting the line and weaving his way in for another try in the corner.

Northampton though simply refused to lie down. Lee Dickson crossed for another try, their third, to keep the 14-man side in the hunt. Adversity suited them as they performed better with fewer players, running with greater fluidity and leaving Leicester ragged despite still trailing 24-17 on the scoreboard.

With weary legs from both sides starting to creak all across HQ, a gulf opened up for Tuilagi to canter away for Leicester's third try and what felt like the decisive score. Pisi's loose inside pass confirmed the result as replacement Steve Mafi pounced, racing away and passing inside to Goneva for Leicester's fourth.

The conclusion was somewhat inevitable, Northampton doomed to run out of steam, but Leicester were more than worthy of their title - a fourth trophy in nine years. Few would bet against them making it ten consecutive Aviva Premiership finals next year.

The scorers:

For Leicester:
Tries: Morris, Kitchener, Tuilagi, Goneva
Con: Flood
Pens: Flood, Ford 4

For Northampton:
Tries: Myler, Foden, Dickson
Con: Myler
Red Card: Hartley

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5, Geoff Parling, 4, Graham Kitchener, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Fraser Balmain, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5, Christian Day, 4, Courtney Lawes, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Ben Nutley, 20 GJ Van Velze, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 George Pisi.

Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Greg Garner, JP Doyle
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes
Timekeeper: Mike Hamlin
Assessor: Ed Morrison

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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