Northampton find form to upset Leicester and make a point to their critics
The early loss of captain Rob Horne did not rattle Saints.
Flanker Jamie Gibson said Northampton’s shock 27-21 win at Leicester in the Aviva Premiership proved the players care about the club.
The win ended a miserable run of five defeats, including a 63-13 thrashing at home to Saracens seven days before the trip to Welford Road, in a season which has seen boss Jim Mallinder sacked.
Northampton will have a new director of rugby next season, Chris Boyd, currently in charge at New Zealand side Hurricanes, and he will be delighted with the latest performance when he watches the footage.
Gibson, a former Leicester player, said: “It has been a tough season. We have got a top quality squad and it’s hurt at times, especially last week conceding so many points.
“The one thing we knew is that the East Midlands derby is one of the biggest games in England, if not Europe.
“The fans get involved, the press are on it, and we knew we had to be on our mettle and show that we care about rugby, the club and each other and we did that.”
Asked how Saints had turned things round in a week, Gibson said: “Our captain, Rob Horne, has spoken all week about what the game means to him and him going down early on would have given us a bit of extra motivation to prove him and us right.”
Horne was stretchered off following six minutes of treatment after being knocked out when he ran into Leicester number eight Sione Kalamafoni at the kick-off. He was taken to hospital but was talking as he underwent assessment, Northampton said.
But that did not unsettle Saints and, although under the cosh for much of the game, they created three chances and took the lot, the tries coming from Ben Foden, Cobus Reinach and Ahsee Tuala, with Stephen Myler kicking 12 points.
Leicester scored two tries, through Telusa Veainu and Matt Toomua, with George Ford kicking a conversion and three penalties in front of a capacity 25,849 crowd.
But Leicester blew a hatful of chances, including what might have been a match-winning try from replacement Jonah Holmes in the 76th minute, which was chalked off for obstruction.
Defeat ended Leicester’s five-match winning run and means they drop out of the top four, replaced by Wasps who beat Worcester.
Tigers boss Matt O’Connor said: “We were inaccurate. We started well and there were a lot of opportunities for us in the first 20, 25 minutes and we did not execute on those.
“They stayed in the game, they took their chances when they had them. You can’t concede 27 points at home and turn the ball over 26 times.
“We had loads of intent and loads of energy but we did not have composure. We missed a trick in not getting on the scoreboard and building pressure. They had an easy ride in the first 25 minutes.”
Leicester’s next game is at home to Newcastle, led by former Tigers boss Dean Richards.
“That’s a cup final, if we don’t win our season is probably over,” said O’Connor.