Tigers move clear at summit
Leicester increased their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership with a 27-16 win over nearest rivals Northampton.
Last Updated: 08/01/11 7:11pm
Leicester Tigers retained top spot in the Aviva Premiership with a 27-16 victory over closest rivals Northampton Saints at Welford Road.
Tries from Craig Newby and Marcos Ayerza were supplemented by a 17-point haul from Toby Flood's boot as the Tigers prevailed in a hard-fought, high-quality East Midlands derby.
Northampton full-back Ben Foden scored his side's only try inside the first minute and Stephen Myler's kicking - he finished with 11 points - kept the game close until Ayerza's 63rd-minute score finally ended the visitors' resistance.
Leicester, who were beaten by the same opponents on the opening day of the season at Franklin's Gardens, are now six points clear in the league standings - although the Saints still have two games in hand.
The visitors made a sensational start when Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs' attempted box kick went straight up in the air, gifting away possession and setting up the ideal platform for a swift counter.
The ball was moved from right to left and Foden, entering the line at pace, sidestepped away from Manu Tuilagi and cruised over out wide with just 51 seconds on the clock.
Myler converted from close to the touchline but Leicester responded immediately, Youngs to the fore as they tore straight to the other end - an attack that concluded in a simple penalty for Flood to reduce his side's deficit to 7-3.
And bettter followed for the Tigers just three minutes later, Kiwi flanker Craig Newby forcing his way over from close range after the ball was kept alive out of the tackle on several occasions.
Although Flood failed with the extras, there was further bad news for Northampton as their England international lock Courtney Lawes limped off, replaced by Jon Clarke.
Myler edged the Saints 10-8 up on 12 minutes with a penalty - awarded for a wild attempt to clear out a ruck by the irrepressible Youngs - before missing another chance to pad the lead from the kicking tee seven minutes later.
The end-to-end nature of proceedings continued apace, Flood's second penalty capping a spell of Leicester pressure and putting the home side 11-10 in front.
Northampton lost another of their England contingent to injury on 26 minutes, Joe Ansbro coming on for Chris Ashton on the wing.
Heavy conditions made place kicking difficult, a point illustrated when both Myler and Flood fell short with penalty attempts from the halfway line during a scoreless final 10 minutes of the first-half.
Another Flood penalty on 42 minutes was followed by a solid 10-minute period where the home forwards maintained a stranglehold on possession and territory.
But Northampton weathered the storm and were soon able to get back within one point; Myler doing the honours after a scrum infringement that prompted the withdrawal of Martin Castrogiovanni for Dan Cole in the Leicester front-row.
Flood and Myler exchanged three pointers to leave the Tigers nursing a 17-16 advantage entering the final quarter of the match.
Leicester finally broke open proceedings with their second try, prop Ayerza taking the direct route to finish off several phases of attacks under the posts.
Flood's conversion put his team eight points clear at 24-16 and the result was safe when Northampton substitute Mark Sorenson was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball close to his own line.
That allowed Flood to slot his fifth penalty of the day, taking his personal tally to 17 points and, although he wasted two further opportunities in the final 10 minutes - the second of which rebounded out off a post - it mattered little as Leicester completed an impressive victory without alarm.
The only sour note for Richard Cockerill's men was the sight of captain Geordan Murphy leaving the field on a stretcher nine minutes from time following a heavy collision.