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Derby win puts Tigers in play-offs

Published 16/05/2015

Leicester Tigers Ben Youngs gets away from Northampton's Lee Dickson during the Aviva Premiership match at Welford Road Stadium, Leicester.
Leicester Tigers Ben Youngs gets away from Northampton's Lee Dickson during the Aviva Premiership match at Welford Road Stadium, Leicester.

Leicester temporarily diverted attention from the Manu Tuilagi bombshell as they reached the Aviva Premiership play-offs for an 11th successive season by defeating fierce local rivals Northampton 22-14 at Welford Road.

Tries by number eight Jordan Crane and full-back Niall Morris, plus three Freddie Burns penalties and a late Tommy Bell penalty saw the Tigers home two days after England centre Tuilagi pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers when he appeared before magistrates on Thursday following an incident in April.

James Wilson kicked three penalties for Northampton, with Tom Stephenson adding a try.

The Tigers will be away to Bath in next Saturday's semi-finals, while reigning Premiership champions Northampton face a home tie against Saracens.

Leicester's build-up to the match had been dominated by Thursday's news regarding Tuilagi, who was fined £5,500, and ordered to pay £705 in costs. He pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating, one count of criminal damage and two counts of assaulting a police officer.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster then announced that Tuilagi will not be considered for selection for the national elite playing squads until January 2016, meaning he will miss the World Cup on home soil later this year, while Leicester have yet to reveal any possible disciplinary action against their player.

On the field, Leicester have now reached the play-offs every season since 2004, although they will have their work cut at the Recreation Ground, where Tigers were humiliated 45-0 last September.

Ed Slater and Christian Loamanu both made their first Premiership starts of the season for Leicester, with Slater replacing rib injury victim Geoff Parling and Loamanu taking over from Seremaia Bai, who was sent off against Wasps last weekend and then banned for three weeks.

Northampton, a home play-off already assured, rested a number of their England players, including Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Luther Burrell, while Dylan Hartley was on bench duty and James Wilson started instead of regular fly-half Stephen Myler.

Burns and Wilson exchanged early penalties, but Northampton soon found themselves on the back foot as Leicester displayed plenty of confidence borne from the win against Wasps, and they claimed an opening try after 14 minutes.

Slater secured lineout possession near the Northampton line, and Saints proved powerless to halt a drive to the corner that ended with Crane touching down.

Burns failed to land the conversion, but Wilson did not make a mistake with his second penalty chance, and the opening quarter ended with Leicester 8-6 ahead.

Northampton grew impressively into the game, and despite their lack of key personnel, they created pressure deep inside Leicester's half and Wilson completed his penalty hat-trick to edge Saints one point ahead.

Despite Leicester's best efforts, Saints did enough to preserve that advantage and take a one-point lead into the break.

Burns put Leicester back in front just two minutes after the restart, though, with another penalty, before Tigers were narrowly denied a try after skipper Ben Youngs just failed to ground the ball at Saints' posts under pressure from a superb Alex Corbisiero tackle.

But Northampton could not quash Tigers' relentless scrum power, and after Saints boss Jim Mallinder took off prop Salesi Ma'afu and replaced him with Gareth Denman, Denman received a yellow card from referee Matt Carley.

And it immediately got worse for Northampton, with Ma'afu returning to the field to complete Saints' full front-row complement, only to receive a yellow card himself for more scrummaging indiscipline.

Burns, who would go off injured before the finish, then kicked the resulting penalty as the visitors temporarily found themselves down to 13 players, and with Saints still significantly underpowered, Morris darted over to open up a 10-point advantage.

Hartley made a substitute's appearance as the clock ticked down, but Bell's penalty took Leicester past 20 points before Stephenson scored a late try for Saints.

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