Planet Rugby

Dreamland for 14-man Saints

16th May 2014 21:46


Tom Wood sent his Northampton side to their second consecutive Premiership Final with a monumental 21-20 win over Leicester Tigers.

It was concluded in the most dramatic of fashions, George North and Wood's late tries coming when they were down to 14 men towards the end of the feistiest of encounters.

This was a typically ill-tempered derby with three yellow cards and a red for Salesi Ma'afu, which amidst the chaos was brilliantly officiated by JP Doyle.

At times it was maddeningly scrappy, but make no mistake, this was a glorious scrap. Bodies went on the line to reach Twickenham in two weeks time. The conclusion was breathless.

Regardless of their exploits this season in the Premiership, losing to Leicester at home again would obviously render Northampton's efforts as redundant, but also leave a darker mark. They couldn't finish off an abundance of opportunities until 65 minutes when North - who else? - powered his way over the try line.

Leicester though are tenacious. When they should have conceded down to 14 men themselves early on, they scored. Every time Northampton sent a giant running towards the defence, Julian Salvi seemed to chop him down and pick his pocket. It was unrelenting, but for there will be no tenth consecutive final for them.

The opening collisions were seismic. Sam Dickinson rocked Logovi'i Mulipola to set the tone early on, but as good as Northampton's defence was around the fringes they conceded an early penalty for Flood to convert.

That ferocious rearguard was always going to force an error. Northampton hassled Flood and hacked the ball long to force a five-metre lineout.

From it Fotuali'i nearly snuck in down the blindside into the corner. An early jump at the lineout snuffed out the delirium from the Franklin's Gardens faithful as Phil Dowson's try was ruled out. It was frantic.

Leicester were on the rack but they still lead, soaking up Luther Burrell's barrelling runs but winning the breakdown penalty when it mattered.

Myler levelled the scores but it was temporary, as Leicester got in behind the wall and then the light footwork of Mathew Tait made the space out wide for Manu Tuilagi to canter in for a splendid try. It was seamlessly executed.

Proceedings weren't all going the way of the Tigers however. Vereniki Goneva was sent to the bin for illegal play at the ruck, handing Myler his second penalty to leave the score at 6-10 after half an hour.

Leicester might have been down to 14, but they played without the handicap. Logovi'i Mulipola's carry round the back of the lineout had Northampton scrambling and they couldn't keep track of the space around the corner, Ben Youngs darting through on his 100th Premiership appearance for the visitors second try.

A fine moment of individual skill from Tom Collins gave Northampton a penalty from which they kicked into the corner, turning down the points. Manoa's knock-on sucked the wind out of their lungs and Leicester went into half-time purring with an 11-point advantage.

Northampton had been to this dark place against Leicester many times before, but the past had to be ignored.

They were given another numerical advantage when Dan Bowden was sin-binned for a tip tackle on Collins, Myler cutting the gap to eight with the resulting penalty.

Northampton's will was unrelenting but their execution kept letting them down, slipped tackles and wonky lineouts proving to be their undoing.

Tom Youngs was lucky not to be the third Tiger in the bin when his stray boot at the ruck lost Northampton possession, but Saints continued to enjoy territory. They just couldn't take the chances on offer.

A moment of madness from Ma'afu then put Northampton at a permanent disadvantage as the prop was shown a red card, landing a fine one-two punch on Tom Youngs who also saw yellow for his troubles.

Northampton just had to breakthrough eventually and from a penalty for a tackle in the air on Foden, they finally hit a five-metre lineout and made the space for North to crash over through the defence.

Franklin's Gardens was now rocking as Salvi and Crane lay battered frpm their heroic efforts at keeping Northampton out.

Leicester had been under the cosh for so long but they still lead by a point and after so much oppression found themselves with a kickable penalty deep in Northampton's 22.

Step forward Owen Williams, the young Welsh number ten who has been a revelation all season to land the kick and move Leicester four points ahead. But this wasn't to be their time. Not this time.

Northampton hadn't lead for the whole contest. They snatched it in the 78th minute. Tom Wood, their captain, spun his way out of the tackle and sent the ground into orbit in the process. For Saints, this was pure, pure joy.

The scorers:

For Northampton:
Tries: North, Wood
Cons: Myler 2
Pens: Myler 3
Red Card: Ma'afu

For Leicester:
Tries: Tuilagi, B.Youngs
Cons: Flood 2
Pens: Flood, Williams
Yellow Cards: Goneva, Bowden, T.Youngs

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kan Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater (c), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Adam Thompstone

Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt

by Ben Coles

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