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Aviva Premiership: Matt Smith try proves the difference as Leicester beat Northampton 16-12
A Matt Smith try proved the difference as Leicester ground out a hard-fought 16-12 victory over Northampton to briefly move to the top of the Aviva Premiership table.
Smith struck at the start of the second half to push his side into a lead that they would ultimately never relinquish.
In a contest dominated by defences and rather lacking in invention or flair, the boots of respective fly-halves George Ford and Ryan Lamb played a leading role with the former kicking three penalties and a conversion and the latter four penalties.
It was Lamb who gave the visitors an early 6-0 lead as he accepted two penalty opportunities in the opening 11 minutes.
Ford was not so clinical as he fluffed his first two chances, but at the third time of asking he got Leicester back within three on 18 minutes.
It was the Tigers number 10 who had the last word of the half as he ensured his side went in on terms at the interval with a second penalty after Dom Waldouck was penalised for holding on.
The hosts then broke the defensive stalemate just over a minute into the second period as Smith touched down for the game's solitary try, the centre on the shoulder of replacement Vereniki Goneva to receive an offload after a powerful run from the Fijian.
Lamb reduced the deficit after Ford was pulled up for tackling GJ Van Velze without the ball, but three minutes later he was unable to find the target from out wide after the hosts infringed again.
Ford stretched the lead back to seven points with his third penalty after Saints hooker Mike Haywood was pinged for clattering Geordan Murphy in the air following a kick from the full-back.
But he then failed with two virtually identical penalty opportunities from wide on the left within the space of a couple of minutes and those misses looked costly when Lamb slotted his fourth to get Northampton back within striking distance with six minutes remaining.
The Saints fly-half would turn sinner though, as he was sin-binned for a rather cynical block on Anthony Allen and with him went any hopes the visitors had of avoiding defeat.Aviva Premiership. Click here to bet.
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com