Leicester Tigers 27 Northampton Saints 20: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Nafi Tuitavake scored for Saints at Welford Road (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Nafi Tuitavake scored for Saints at Welford Road (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

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It seems there is no good time for Saints to go to Welford Road.

Leicester looked vulnerable after five successive defeats, including a 43-0 hammering at home to Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

Tigers had shipped 77 points in their previous two games and you would have expected confidence to be at an all-time low.

But as it turned out, it was Saints who were left licking their wounds on Saturday evening.

Because after failing to put their foot on the throat of Tigers early in the game, Jim Mallinder's men eventually saw the scoreboard get away from them.

Leicester were given a chance to get into the match and after being held up three times in quick succession, Will Evans finally found a way to ground the ball.

Saints fought back with some brilliant work from Ken Pisi and Nafi Tuitavake setting up Harry Mallinder for a score.

But the away side's discipline was to let them down, with Pisi sin-binned for a tip tackle and Owen Williams sticking the boot in.

With Dom Barrow scoring Tigers' second try before the break, it was always going to be a huge ask for Saints to overcome a nine-point deficit in the second period.

And with Tigers' tails up, having seen fresh life breathed into them by the first-half showing, the mountain became even steeper when hooker Harry Thacker scored.

To their credit, Saints kept going, scoring through Tuitavake's tidy footwork and Rory Hutchinson's finish that salvaged a losing bonus point.

But once again Saints were left to wonder what might have been at Welford Road.

They have still not won there since February 2007, and they have now lost their past six derbies against Tigers.

That is a tough record to take, especially for the supporters who are so desperate for some overdue bragging rights.

None of those defeats to Tigers have been by more than a nine-point margin, but in top level sport, it is all about those fine lines.

And unfortunately for Saints, Tigers, despite their recent slump, once again showed they had the composure and the desire to come out on top.

Mallinder's men couldn't take advantage of the time Leicester prop Michele Rizzo spent in the sin bin, failing to score in those 10 minutes.

And in fact it was Tigers who looked more threatening during Rizzo's spell off the field.

A failure to keep hold of the ball and an inability to stem a tide of penalties proved key to Saints' undoing.

And just as in December, when they were beaten 19-11 at Welford Road, Saints were left with regrets.

But this game, unlike the one last month, never really looked in reach after Pisi's sin-binning and Barrow's score.

Saints must now hope Tigers can do them a favour by winning at Saracens next weekend, but that would appear unlikely, especially with Leicester already into the semi-finals.

It would be disappointing for Mallinder's men not to make the Anglo-Welsh Cup final four, but they know bigger battles await in the Aviva Premiership.

And they will be desperate to earn a stylish win against Scarlets on Friday night to take some momentum into the huge league clash with Bath on February 10.

The positives are that a couple of players provided some positive signs, with Tuitavake and debutant David Ribbans stepping up in the heat of an east midlands derby.

Sam Dickinson came through his return to action, while Pisi, despite his yellow card, could be pleased with his day's work, which should restore his confidence.

The Samoan, like his team in general, has endured a mixed campaign.

And Saints will hope their inconsistency continues for another week at least as they look to turn a Tigers defeat into a Scarlets success on Friday night.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Played really well at Montpellier on the previous weekend, but though he did make some ground here, he couldn't have as big an influence... 6

KEN PISI
Despite his yellow card, the Samoan could be proud of his efforts as his brilliant gather and offload helped to set up the first try and his running caused plenty of problems... 7

NAFI TUITAVAKE - CHRON STAR MAN
An impressive display from the Tongan centre, who set up a try for Harry Mallinder and scored one of his own with some neat footwork... 7

HARRY MALLINDER
Etched his name on the scoresheet with good awareness and a burst of speed and didn't have a bad day overall... 6

JUAN PABLO ESTELLES
Showed flashes of his class, gaining some ground during the first half and he is getting better and better in a Saints shirt... 6

SAM OLVER
Not an easy day for the half-backs, with Tigers hunting in packs and suffocating the men trying to pull the strings for Saints... 5

TOM KESSELL
Like Olver, he was starved of space, with Tigers putting plenty of pressure on and the scrum-half was eventually replaced by Lee Dickson... 5

ETHAN WALLER
Competed well with the Leicester pack and he has done some decent work during the past couple of weeks... 6

CHARLIE CLARE
Was keen to make a good impression at the club at which he spent time in the Academy and didn't do much wrong at all... 6

KIERAN BROOKES
Always an imposing presence and had an intriguing battle in the scrum, even if they referee did not often find in his favour... 6

DAVID RIBBANS
A decent debut from the youngster, whose enthusiasm couldn't be questioned, even if it did get him in trouble once or twice... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY
Not the way the lock would have wanted his 200th appearance to end, but he did everything he could to help his side... 7

JAMIE GIBSON
Put himself about plenty, working so hard to try to get Saints on top against his old team, but Tigers eventually had the edge... 7

BEN NUTLEY
Never lets Saints down and though his all-action attitude couldn't help Saints get the win they wanted, he still did plenty of graft... 6

SAM DICKINSON
Made his comeback from a knee injury and certainly got through plenty of work before being withdrawn 22 minutes from time... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 51)

It looks to be a fairly even battle in the bid to earn the Saints No.3 shirt and this man will be desperate for more game time in the weeks to come... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Kessell 51)
Was so impressive at Montpellier in the previous game, but came into this one with his team in a really tricky situation and tried to up the tempo... 6

JAMES WILSON (for Estelles 51)
Was unfortunate as he came into the game at a difficult time and then took a heavy knock... 6

LEWIS LUDLAM (for Dickinson 58)
The youngster was keen to make an impression and he did his bit as Saints managed to score a couple of tries late on... 6

It was a typically feisty derby day at Welford Road

It was a typically feisty derby day at Welford Road

James Wilson was a second-half replacement for Saints

James Wilson was a second-half replacement for Saints

Rory Hutchinson's last-gasp try salvaged a losing bonus point for Saints

Rory Hutchinson's last-gasp try salvaged a losing bonus point for Saints

Saints were left to reflect on another defeat at Leicester, where they haven't won since 2007

Saints were left to reflect on another defeat at Leicester, where they haven't won since 2007