Leicester Tigers 35 Northampton Saints 20: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Having celebrated so often on Tigers turf in recent times, Saints were well and truly brought back to earth on Friday night.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 12th February 2022, 2:06 pm
Updated Saturday, 12th February 2022, 2:08 pm
George Furbank started at fly-half for Saints
George Furbank started at fly-half for Saints

Chris Boyd's side had won on four of their previous five visits to Mattioli Woods Welford Road, but this time there was little to shout about.

Because after Alex Mitchell' s moment of magic early in the first half, it was like a return to the dark old days of East Midlands derbies in Leicester.

Saints found themselves submerged by a Tigers team who stomped their feet all over the black, green and gold.

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They were too strong and too accurate for the black, green and gold to handle as they surged into a 22-5 lead.

And the orchestrators were so familiar, with Nemani Nadolo and Freddie Burns, two men who seem to take such pleasure in hitting Saints' hopes, ruling the roost.

Saints simply could not get out of their own half for so long, but when they did, they looked dangerous.

The likes of Mitchell, Rory Hutchinson and George Furbank showed the backline skill Saints have become known for since Boyd arrived in the summer in 2018.

But, as has also been the case during that time, the black, green and gold struggled to give them enough of the ball in dangerous positions against a top-four team.

That is because the pack was overwhelmed by a Leicester side who have racked up an eye-watering 90 points against Saints in two meetings this season.

They have done the double over Northampton for the first time since 2016/17 and it seems Tigers have well and truly rediscovered the snarl and substance they were once famed for.

As for Saints, similar themes continue to emerge.

In the big games against the teams stacked with big men, they struggle to survive.

When they can at least get parity in games against the likes of Newcastle Falcons and Worcester Warriors, they can be as dangerous as anyone.

But can they truly take on the likes of Saracens and, now, Tigers, who base their showings, first and foremost, on how far their forwards can take them?

The old adage so often rings true in the Gallagher Premiership: the pack wins the game, the backs decide by how much.

And with the Tigers pack winning this match for their team, the likes of Nadolo and Burns were able to thrive, making the most of constant front-foot ball.

Saints' backs were struggling to keep their cool under such pressure during the first half, knowing that because the physical battle was being lost, they had to produce something special.

On a couple of occasions, when Mitchell and Courtnall Skosan scored, and when Furbank was just denied by Chris Ashton's intervention, they did.

But you can't rely solely on those pieces of inspiration.

They can win the battles but they won't win the war.

And so it proved.

Saints had a really tough night in the set piece, losing lineouts and shipping penalties at the scrum.

They were also outgunned at the breakdown and Matthew Carley's arm constantly seemed to be in the air, with the shrill sound of his whistle puncturing Saints souls.

Boyd's side are still on the coat tails of the top four, but with more massive tests against more massive forward packs to come, they are going to have to come up with a recipe for success.

There is undoubtedly a sour taste in the mouth after the second derby day of the season, but that can be wiped away with a win against Sale Sharks next Saturday.

Whether this Saints team is capable of overcoming another team that took them to task earlier in the season - the Sharks won 30-6 in the reverse fixture - it remains to be seen.

But if Saints really want to send Boyd home happy this summer, they are going to have to find a way to win the collisions that they were unable to on Friday night.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

A tough 40 minutes for the full-back, who was taken off at half-time. He was given some horrible passes that put him under pressure and was under the cosh throughout... 4.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Wasn't really able to get in the game as Saints had few chances to really get at Tigers in their own 22... 5

FRASER DINGWALL

Has been one of the stars of Saints' season and skippered them again here, but couldn't have the influence he normally would... 5.5

RORY HUTCHINSON

Was making his 100th Saints appearance and once again showed flashes of class, speeding around Nemani Nadolo to set up a score for Courtnall Skosan... 6

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Did what he could for his team and finished well when he got the chance to take his tally to nine tries in as many matches... 6

GEORGE FURBANK

Was so unlucky not to etch his name on the scoresheet in the first half as he was denied by a fine tackle from Chris Ashton, and largely performed okay... 6

ALEX MITCHELL

Looked to have sparked Saints into life with a moment of magic in the first half but they were starved of the ball after that, limiting his influence... 6

ALEX WALLER

Not an easy night for the Saints props as they frantically tried to hit back at Tigers with little reward... 4

SAM MATAVESI

Showcased his tidy footwork again on one occasion but the set piece didn't really function and there was little joy for him this time... 4

PAUL HILL

Soldiered on and won a penalty on his own line but this was a really tough night at scrum time and he couldn't find favour with the referee... 4

DAVID RIBBANS

Fought as hard as he could until the end but wasn't able to push his team to victory as Tigers won the forward battle... 5

API RATIUNIYARAWA

Tried to use his sizeable frame to gain Saints some ground but Tigers stood up to the Fiji ace well... 5

TOM WOOD

If this is to be his final derby day, it was a tough one to take as Tigers submerged Saints in the first 40 minutes and he had to come off with a shoulder injury... 5

TEIMANA HARRISON

Fought for every inch, as ever, but was fighting against the tide for much of the game and got turned over a couple of times... 5

JUARNO AUGUSTUS

Saints would have hoped the man nicknamed 'Trokkie' could steamroll Tigers but the hosts coped with him well and stopped him having an influence on the game... 5.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

KARL WILKINS (for Wood 40)

Came off the bench to grab his first try for Saints and aside from the concession of one penalty, he didn't do much wrong... 5.5

MATT PROCTOR (for Tuala 40)

Made one key tackle in the second half but wasn't able to get in the game as an attacking force as Tigers kept Saints on the back foot... 5

MANNY IYOGUN (for Waller 57)

Found it tough initially but grew into the game as it went on and made one important tackle to stop Tigers scoring... 4.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers)