LEICESTER (16) 37
Tries: Morris, Kitchener, Tuilagi, Goneva
Pens: Flood, Ford 4
NORTHAMPTON (5) 17
Tries: Myler, Foden, Dickson
Clinical Leicester overcame a courageous Northampton side to record an unprecedented tenth English Title. In a gripping showpiece of a Premiership final the Tigers eventually ran out 34-17 winners.
But the result was overshadowed by Dylan Hartley’s sending off just before the break. The Northampton skipper was given a straight red card for dissent, despite being given a warning, moments prior to incident. And it was from thereon in that the pendulum swung the way of the Tigers in a game full of talking points.
Leicester found themselves 13-5 ahead, after their talisman Toby Flood had burst through to unleash a magnificent pass out to Niall Morris, who crossed unchallenged. Scrum half Lee Dickson got Northampton going, with a shrewd quick tap and go, that resulted in a Stephen Myler try in the corner.
The experienced Flood had set the benchmark for his side to follow. But his contribution to the victory was cut short following a slightly late tackle from England compatriot Courtney Lawes. This left the departing George Ford to pull the strings in his place.
Full back Ben Foden was inspirational in leading Northampton’s charge back into the game. Foden had a try disallowed, on the grounds that his feet were in-touch when grounding the ball. But with the break approaching, a school-boy error from Myler facilitated a Leicester penalty. It was here that Hartley was deemed to have been abusive towards referee Wayne Barnes, who was left with no other option but to send him off. An incredulous Hartley trudged off the Twickenham turf, mirroring his side’s fading hopes of winning a first Premiership Title and his own prospects of a first Lions Tour. Ford slotted the penalty to extend Leicester’s lead to 16-5.
Against all the odds the Saints made a sensational start to the second half, with great work from Chris Day allowing replacement hooker Haywood to release Foden on the overlap to make the score 16-10. Soon after, play opened up for Second Row Kitchener to finish like a centre, turning the game on its head once more.
With time still left on the clock, Northampton never showed any signs of giving in. England-bound Luther Burrell broke free to off-load back inside to Dickson who made a fantastic pick up to narrow the deficit to only 24-17. The game had well and truly opened up. Saints continued to play with ambition and they were outstanding in their drift defence, despite their lack of numbers.However, their efforts were brought down as Tulangi took advantage of tired legs to burst home in the best part of a 50m dash. Winger Goneva then crossed to all but confirm Leicester as champions, with the score at 34-17.
Northampton can take heart from the defeat, in what was their first Premiership final, which they could also see as a day of what might-have-been, if captain Hartley had the ability to not speak his mind. This year’s final had it all; flair, intensity, a sending-off. In a game of exhilarating free flowing rugby Leicester were both consistent and disciplined when it mattered, particular at the set pieces.
The Tigers’ crucially benefited from the stupidity of Hartley to help make amends for two consecutive previous final day heartbreaks. The victory provided a fitting send-off for the departing Murphy, Castrogiovanni, Ford and assistant coach O’Connor. Head coach Richard Cockerill praised his players in victory, summing up by saying ‘to get this far and not to win it, is an opportunity missed, so thankfully this year, third time lucky, it’s been done.’
Leicester Tigers: Tait; Morris, Tuilagi, Allen, Goneva; Flood (capt), Ben Youngs; Mulipola, Tom Youngs, Cole; Kitchener, Parling; Croft, Salvi, Crane.
Replacements: Hawkins, Balmain, Castrogiovanni, Slater, Mafi, Harrison, Ford, Smith.
Northampton Saints: Foden; Ken Pisi, Wilson, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Dickson; Tonga’uiha, Hartley (capt), Mujati; Lawes, Day; Dowson, Wood, Manoa.
Replacements: Haywood, Waller, Mercey, Nutley, Van Velze, Roberts, Lamb, George Pisi.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)