Leicester 27-14 Northampton: George Ford plays as Tigers set up Premiership final showdown with Saracens
The Tigers, who extended their unbeaten record at home in England’s premier domestic rugby competition to more than a year, have come under intense scrutiny from their East Midlands rivals throughout a frenzied play-off. emotion with Ford scoring 22 points.
A minute’s applause was held before kick-off in memory of Tiffany Youngs, whose husband Tom retired in April after a career that saw him captain the club and make more than 200 team appearances first.
Tom’s brother, England scrum-half Ben Youngs, has started for Leicester as the Tigers have booked a date at Twickenham with Saracens next Saturday.
Ford, in his final home appearance for Leicester before joining Sale later in the summer, contributed a try, a conversion, four penalties and a drop-goal, and provided an assist for Freddie Steward’s late touchdown.
The Saints responded with a touchdown from Tommy Freeman, with Dan Biggar giving up two penalties and James Grayson one, but Wales international Biggar left early in the second period after appearing to have suffered a knock.
But ultimately it was Leicester’s day, setting up a thrilling finale as they go in search of a ninth Premiership title.
Hooker Julian Montoya and center Dan Kelly returned to Leicester’s starting line-up, while Northampton’s changes included Freeman moving to full-back instead of an unavailable George Furbank, with number eight Juarno Augustus also Featured.
Kelly, however, limped off after just three minutes, prompting a rear split reshuffle as Guy Porter moved into midfield, substitute Freddie Burns lined up at the back and Steward moved to the wing.
Biggar then launched Northampton ahead, netting a 48-yard penalty after seven minutes before Saints full-back Freeman launched a thrilling counter-attack that ended in a throw-in.
The Saints were comfortably the more dangerous team early on, and they were denied a try from Alex Mitchell after winger Courtnall Skosan struck in, before Skosan reversed a pass when a clear run to the line was announced.
Leicester’s response to a troubling first quarter was to settle in the Northampton 22, aided by a wild pass from Augustus that gave them an attacking line-up.
Ford leveled things with a short-range penalty, but Skosan’s horrors continued after Saints center Rory Hutchinson burst through midfield, only for the South African to waste another clean chance by dropping the ball.
A second penalty from Ford edged the Tigers seven minutes before the break, just as Biggar was treated after apparently taking a blow to the back.
The Saints finished the half in control and Biggar’s second penalty made it 6-6 at the break after Porter was shown a yellow card for a high tackle on Hutchinson.
With Porter still out, Northampton deservedly took the lead following sustained pressure which left the Leicester defense many questions.
And Freeman had an easy finish as Leicester lacked numbers as Biggar’s missed conversion was his last contribution before he quit action and was replaced by Grayson.
Leicester were in trouble again but they managed to provoke a response this time as Ford forced his way through the Northampton defense for a try which he also converted.
Grayson sent an angled penalty chance after Skosan was tackled in the corner, only to redeem himself four minutes later as the Saints came back in the lead.
But when Northampton back-up prop Oisin Heffernan was sentenced for a tough challenge on Jasper Wiese, Leicester looked to make it count.
Ford, inevitably, delivered the goods after throwing an early penalty as Leicester attacked at pace, and his floating delivery found an unmarked steward, who eventually finished to finally floor Saints and secure a trip to Twickenham which was sealed by Ford’s drop-goal and another penalty.