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Wood strikes late as super Saints sink Tigers

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Tom Wood scored the most memorable of late tries as 14-man Saints downed Leicester 21-20 to earn a place in the Aviva Premiership final.

Wood powered over with just two minutes to go to end 10 games of hurt for his team, who beat Tigers for the first time since September, 2010 to reach the May 31 Twickenham showpiece.

Chorus after chorus of ‘Come on you Saints’ bellowed around Franklin’s Gardens at the conclusion of one of the most enthralling encounters in Premiership history.

Saints came back from 17-6 down to earn their victory and they did it without Salesi Ma’afu, who saw red for punching Tom Youngs during the second half.

Leicester had three men sent to the sin bin during the game, with Vereniki Goneva, Dan Bowden and Tom Youngs, for his part in the Ma’afu scrap, all yellow-carded.

Tigers scored twice during the first half, with Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs dotting down, but Saints refused to give up.

George North powered over to give Jim Mallinder’s men hope and Wood, with a captain’s run, made the most of it, refusing to be held back as he carried his team into the final.

The noise around the Gardens had been immense from the off, but at the end it was deafening as the home fans saluted their comeback kings.

Leicester players slumped on the turf in recognition of what had unfolded, while the Saints players milked the adulation for all it was worth.

And yet it had seemed like the moment would never come, with Leicester in front from the off.

Toby Flood handed the visitors a 3-0 lead thanks to a penalty given for a late tackle by Phil Dowson before Saints responded with Kahn Fotuali’i coming close to a clever try.

The home side continued to turn up the heat and after North pocketed a high ball, Saints won a penalty to give Myler the chance to level the scores. He took it.

But Tigers were soon roaring loudly again as England juggernaut Tuilagi made the most of a fractured home defence to score in front of the army of visiting fans.

Flood added the extras and Saints were seven points down, knowing they needed to keep their belief if they were to get back in the game.

Ben Foden led the charge, bursting from his own half and picking up his own kick through to force Goneva to offend.

The Tigers wing was sent to the bin and Myler made the most of the resulting penalty, bisecting the posts with ease.

Saints knew they needed to make the most of the 10 minutes before the break, with a man advantage, but Leicester kept their cool and, crucially, kept the ball.

That led to a penalty five metres out and after Logovi’i Mulipola picked up the ball from a lineout, Youngs darted over the line.

Flood sent the visiting fans into delirium with the conversion, handing his team an 11-point lead four minutes before the break.

Saints needed to retain their self-confidence. They needed to ramp up the energy levels again.

Tom Collins, in at the last minute for the injured Ken Pisi, did his best with a rapid break, but Tigers were giving nothing away in defence, forcing Saints into errors.

Mallinder’s men knew they had to come out firing after half-time and they again put the pressure on their rivals.

But no matter how much they huffed and how much they puffed, Tigers continued to shut the door in their faces.

They would again have to cope with a man disadvantage, though, as Bowden was yellow-carded for a tip tackle on Collins. The home fans felt it should have been red.

Myler made the most of the penalty to cut the gap to eight points, but Fotuali’i’s appetite needed to be harnessed as he ran into trouble, allowing Tigers to relieve the pressure.

Saints were making too many errors, ruining their chance to put the squeeze on Leicester, who were again dealing with the sin bin period comfortably.

The home fans were desperately trying to urge their team forward, but Leicester were everywhere at the breakdown with dog of war Julian Salvi putting the shutters down.

But Saints were relentless in attack, pouring forward, with Foden trying to provide some inspiration from full-back.

After Luther Burrell pushed to within inches of the line, Bowden again infringed, but this time escaped the sin bin.

From the flare-up that followed, Australian loosehead Ma’afu landed two punches on Tom Youngs and the Australian prop was red-carded, leaving his team’s hopes seemingly in tatters.

Youngs was also binned, maintaining Saints’ man advantage, and they continued to win an avalanche of penalties.

Eventually they made it pay, with a huge driving maul getting North to within range and the Welsh wing stormed over the line.

Myler added the extras to cut the gap to a single point with little more than 14 minutes to go and Saints continued to pour forward in pursuit of the lead.

Replacement fly-half Owen WIlliams steadied the Tigers nerves somewhat with a penalty from the left of the posts, but the 14 men of Saints weren’t done, flying forward with relentless abandon.

And it was Wood who was the hero, picking the ball up wide left and hammering his way through the Tigers defence to provide a sweet success that will live long in the memory.

Saints: Foden; Collins (Mercey 55), G Pisi (Wilson 66), Burrell, North; Myler, Fotuali’i (Dickson 62); A Waller (Corbisiero 51), Haywood, Ma’afu; Manoa (Day 69), Lawes; Dowson (c) (Clark 55), Wood, Dickinson.

Replacements not used: McMillan, Stephenson.

Leicester: Tait; Morris, Tuilagi, Bowden, Goneva; Flood (Williams 62), B Youngs; Ayerza, T Youngs, Mulipola; Deacon, Slater (c); Gibson, Salvi, Crane.

Replacements not used: Briggs, Bristow, Balmain, Kitchener, Mafi, Mele, Williams, Thompstone.

Referee: JP Doyle

Attendance: 13, 491

 

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