Northampton Saints 26 Leicester Tigers 55: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saturday’s East Midlands derby was a chance for both teams to make a statement.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 31st October 2021, 1:55 pm
Updated Sunday, 31st October 2021, 1:56 pm
Courtnall Skosan scored twice for Saints
Courtnall Skosan scored twice for Saints

After strong starts, at least in terms of results, Saints and Leicester Tigers squared up in what appeared a tough clash to call.

However, what unfolded seemed to suggest that thoughts the sides are both in the play-off picture for the first time since 2015 were frivolous.

Because while Tigers looked every inch the table-topping team who came into the game with six wins from as many matches, Saints seemed a long way from serious contention.

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Put simply, on this occasion, Leicester looked like the real deal while Saints appeared to be far from that.

Tigers raced into a 27-0 lead, bagging the try bonus point in just 35 minutes in front of a largely shell-shocked capacity crowd.

On Halloween weekend, this was the stuff of nightmares for Saints, who shipped penalty after penalty and made error after error.

The hosts were swimming against the tide as the first half went on and their desperation to escape only served to plunge them into deeper waters.

While Tigers looked like a well-drilled, connected unit, Saints looked like a set of individuals, frantically trying to make inroads on their own, without the support needed to make it count.

Tigers took advantage, savaging Saints at the breakdown and bombarding them with high balls that they just could not deal with.

That was summed up when Alex Mitchell went up to gather a kick and the ball fell into the path of Nemani Nadolo, who has tormented Saints on so many occasions, and did so again here.

Nadolo cruised in for two easy tries as he once again did his best impression of a dad playing in a kids' game.

For Tigers, it was dreamland in a season that has their fans fantasising about a long-awaited title push.

And with that opening 35-minute efficiency, ruthlessness and ball security, which had echoes of what Saracens used to do to Saints a few years ago, they would seem to have a shot.

As for Saints, familiar failings resurfaced, with the team seeming to go into panic mode when trying to chase the game.

Exits from the 22 frayed the nerves and the lack of discipline in defence under pressure left a lot to be desired.

One mitigating factor was that this was not the day for Saints to be without all three of their senior full-backs because, as expected, they were peppered with box kicks.

And how they missed enforcers Lewis Ludlam and Courtney Lawes up front to provide some dominance in collisions and ability over the ball.

Tigers were without five England players of their own, including influential captain Ellis Genge, but it barely registered.

Premiership title challengers are able to adapt with main men missing, and Saints didn’t.

They were all at sea and when the pressure came on, they couldn’t stem the tide.

Tigers were the antithesis as even when they had problems of their own during the second half, going down to 13 men at one point, they toughed it out.

George Ford's flawless kicking game helped them get out of jail, they remained resolute and Saints made bad individual decisions as they tried to rush over the line.

At 30-19 down with 22 minutes to go, Saints seemed to have some real hope at last, having come back from that 27-0 deficit.

But Tigers then stepped it up at the breakdown again, winning shots at goal that in-form Ford was never going to miss, and the game got away again.

Saints did salvage a losing bonus point, but tries continued to flow for Tigers as they made the most of a plethora of errors - Saints made close to 30 in all.

Overall, it was a really bad day at the office, and one that will have really hurt Saints, who suffered their biggest ever derby-day defeat at the Gardens.

And while this is just one day in a long season, the worrying thing for Saints is that strong, statement performances have been in short supply in 2021/22, despite the fact they have won four games from six.

They are now 12 points behind Tigers, albeit with a game in hand.

And now there will be a real test of character to see how Saints react to this.

As tests of character go, they don't get much tougher than a trip to Sale, where it is difficult to win at the best of times.

A victory at the AJ Bell Stadium on Saturday night would certainly do much to banish this derby-day misery and heal the wounds.

But against a Sharks side who also pack a punch, the black, green and gold will have to improve significantly if they are to have any hope of securing that bounce-back success.

How they rated…

RORY HUTCHINSON

Was wearing the Saints 15 shirt for only the second time in his career, and this was a really tough day. Hunger wasn't an issue as he frantically tried to help his team, but that desperation only served to aid Tigers... 4

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Has now scored five tries in two appearances for Saints and he looks a real find. The finish for his first try was exceptional and his fast feet will cause defences problems... 5.5

MATT PROCTOR

A key member of Saints backline, it was good to see him back from injury, but aside from a couple of first-half bursts he couldn't really make an impact... 4.5

FRASER DINGWALL

Made 10 tackles on the day and also tried to take the fight to Tigers in attack, particularly early in the second half... 5.5

TOM COLLINS

Was withdrawn early in the second half after it seemed like he was starting to cause Tigers a few problems... 4.5

DAN BIGGAR

Was forced off at half-time after not looking himself with the boot. Provided one lovely moment with a gather and chip over the defence, but that was as good as it got as Saints rarely got him front-foot ball... 4

ALEX MITCHELL

Another performance with flashes of good things but his eagerness to get Saints going was costly at times with a few decisions and pieces of execution not paying off... 4

ALEX WALLER

Grabbed a try on his 23rd derby day, gathering well out wide, and he held his own at scrum time. Was constantly having to engage with the referee...5

SAM MATAVESI

Produced an eye-catching chip late on in the game and also had a say at the breakdown on one or two occasions... 4.5

EHREN PAINTER

The young prop has had some good moments against Tigers in the past, and he held his own against Francois van Wyk in the scrum, but it wasn't an easy day for any Saints player... 4

DAVID RIBBANS

Got on the wrong side of the referee at one point during the first half, but carried with power when he had the chance... 4.5

API RATUNIYARAWA

Aside from one really costly penalty reversal for a late hit on Dan Cole, this man did plenty right as he really carried the fight during his time on the field... 5.5

TOM WOOD

Showed plenty of fight for his team, as ever, but found himself on the wrong side of the referee on a few occasions... 4

TEIMANA HARRISON

Made a few uncharacteristic errors with ball in hand and gave away a couple of penalties as Tigers took Saints on at the breakdown... 4

JUARNO AUGUSTUS

A big effort in a losing cause as the No.8 continually tried to push Tigers back and had Saints been more dominant as a team, he could have really had a huge impact... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMES GRAYSON (for Biggar 40)

Aside from giving away a late intercept try, this was a reasonably positive cameo from the fly-half as he set up a try superbly for Skosan and also delivered an incredible 50:22... 5

PAUL HILL (for Painter 45)

The prop looked fired up to try to help his team turn the tide but once Tigers got back to 15 men, Saints' hope had gone... 4.5

TOM LITCHFIELD (for Collins 50)

Not an easy game for the talented young player to come into as Tigers were limiting Saints' space and putting them under real pressure aerially... 4

ALEX COLES (for Wood 55)

Thundered around trying to have a say in the game but there was to be no way back for the home side... 4.5

NICK AUTERAC (for Waller 59)

Looked fairly sharp at times and tried to get hold of the ball to carry... 4.5

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Matavesi 59)

Not much the hooker could do to influence the game as Tigers showed real hunger in defence, including one big tackle on this man as Saints struggled to get dominance... 4.5

CHRON STAR MAN - George Ford