Leicester Tigers 26 Northampton Saints 17: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

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Fantasies and fears - derby day is full of them. Before, during and after the 80-minute event.

Fans, players and coaches come up with their dream scenarios and embrace the potential nightmares that naturally walk hand in hand with such envisioning.

For Tigers, what unfolded at Mattioli Woods Welford Road turned out to be the realisation of fantasy.

For Saints, it was the realisation of fears.

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Saints suffered a derby-day defeat at Mattioli Woods Welford Road (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Saints suffered a derby-day defeat at Mattioli Woods Welford Road (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Saints suffered a derby-day defeat at Mattioli Woods Welford Road (photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Because the game turned into far more of a Tiger tea party than a Saintly celebration.

It was to be exactly the kind of game and performance that Leicester had hoped for as they were the team who turned up and executed their game plan, in brutal fashion.

Saints couldn’t kick themselves into gear until they fell 16 points and two men down.

Nothing they tried worked to that point.

They had a horrible time at the breakdown and at the scrum, with referee Karl Dickson raising his arm during the match almost as much as Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon.

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Such was the force and ferocity with which Tigers played that Saints didn’t have a minute to think.

They were suffocated in the areas that mattered and, consequently, their true strengths were nullified.

This was another chance for them to show that they are developing into an outfit that can consistently mix it in the most difficult of environments against the most fired-up and talent-laden teams, but they couldn’t.

Instead, it was Tigers who turned their derby-day dreams into reality, with their experienced half-backs pulling the strings and their back row blend working to perfection.

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They delivered a style that has so often been Saints’ kryptonite, allying compact defensive power with breakdown prowess to stop the black, green and gold getting quick ball and prevent them from getting on the front foot.

Saints didn’t help themselves at times either, struggling with high balls that their talented back three, all of whom are comfortable at 15, would normally diffuse.

But this is derby day. And derby day feels and hits different, especially when you are being asked to perform in the Mattioli Woods Welford Road pressure cooker.

And, as is so often the case, it wasn’t only the players that it got to.

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Because once again here, there was a huge officiating flashpoint that had a huge say on the outcome of the game.

Saints have had several reasons to feel hard done by in games at Leicester over the years, and here was another.

Henry Pollock chased a kick and was deemed to have knocked it on, referee Karl Dickson blowing his whistle just before Tommy Freeman could ground the ball and celebrate what he thought was an extremely important and timely try.

That whistle proved key as there was no review, despite replays clearly showing the try should have stood.

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Had Saints been awarded the score and converted it, the gap would have been just two points with 18 minutes remaining.

And they would have had all the momentum against a home side who had somehow surrendered it despite their numerical advantage.

But Tigers won a penalty at the resulting scrum and eventually worked their way upfield to secure a try that put them out of sight.

It was agonising to watch for Saints supporters, who were left to wonder what might have been.

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Because as good and as strong as Tigers were for so long - and, let’s be fair, they bossed much of this match - they didn’t kill it off at 19-3 up.

Their approach only delivered them two tries on a day when they extracted plenty of penalties from Saints but struggled to create any chances outside of the forwards.

And that left the door open for Phil Dowson’s men, who never go quietly.

That Saints didn’t get the chance to walk through the opening owed so much to that key decision because it deprived Saints of a chance to really put their foot down.

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They could have really got the nerves jangling at the home of a team who, let’s not forget, had won just one of their five league games coming into this.

If the scoreline goes from 19-3 to 19-17 in the blink of an eye, from how dominant Tigers had been, they really would have been rattled.

But it wasn’t to be, and Saints will be left to reflect on so much that didn’t go right for them, both in terms of what they could control and what they couldn’t.

The only thing they can have an influence on though is the former.

And now it’s all about how they react.

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Much of how teams fare in an extremely nip and tuck Premiership this season will come down to how they deal with setbacks.

Saints and Harlequins both had a big one on derby weekend, with Quins suffering a sizeable home defeat to Saracens.

So both teams will be wounded going into their already crucial meeting at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

It’s another week of hopes and fears for both clubs.

And Saints will be desperately dreaming of a better 80 minutes next weekend.

How they rated…

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GEORGE FURBANK – had a shaky start as he saw a high ball slip from his grasp but grew into the game, scoring with a fine finish before helping to provide a move that should have seen Freeman awarded a try of his own… 6

GEORGE HENDY – found it tough at times but kept going and was able to make some ground under real pressure here and there… 5.5

TOMMY FREEMAN – one of Saints’ better performers on the day as he made some metres in contact, kept ploughing on and should have had a try for his efforts… 6.5

FRASER DINGWALL – prevented one try with a last-gasp intervention and put himself about, but Tigers were a real force… 6

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JAMES RAMM – wasn’t able to show his attacking ability to any great degree as Tigers contained Saints, but he was steady enough… 5.5

FIN SMITH – stood tall defensively once again but there were few chances for him to run the game because Saints rarely got the ball in good positions while he was on… 5

ALEX MITCHELL – didn’t get much protection and Tigers were able to have an influence on him, stopping him from playing for large parts while disrupting his kicking game… 5

ALEX WALLER – had his work cut out against Joe Heyes, who won favour with the referee and inflicted a huge amount of penalties on Saints… 4

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CURTIS LANGDON - always offers real energy but wasn’t able to have the kind of influence he so often has had for Saints this season… 5

TREVOR DAVISON – didn’t have the kind of problems that were endured on the other side of the scrum... 5

ALEX MOON – worked as hard as ever but Tigers brought the power in the pack and made it difficult for the Saints forwards to gain ground… 5

CHUNYA MUNGA – his first experience of the East Midlands derby and he handled it fairly well albeit it on a difficult day… 5

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ALEX COLES – started to enjoy the game more as it went on and space opened up for a gallop but Tigers had it won by then… 5.5

TOM PEARSON – battled through but couldn’t have the kind of rampaging impact he so often does before being replaced with 30 minutes to go… 5

LEWIS LUDLAM – the skipper kept ploughing on right until the end but was left frustrated as the result slipped away… 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

SAM MATAVESI (for Langdon 48) – ended a tough day on a high note as he finished off a flowing move, but spent 10 minutes in the sin bin just after coming on… 5

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HENRY POLLOCK (for Pearson 51) – showed no fear on his Premiership debut with the 18-year-old desperately trying to help Saints turn the tide… 6.5

ETHAN WALLER (for A Waller 56) – paid the price for Saints’ previous scrum problems as he was shown a yellow card just after coming on, and consequently had less time to make an impact… 4.5

RORY HUTCHINSON (for Smith 56) – made a really positive impact when he came on, even battling through a knock to help provide a late try… 6.5

ELLIOT MILLAR MILLS (for Davison 57) – has looked a good signing for Saints and he was able to have a bit of a say here… 5.5

CHRON STAR MAN – Tommy Reffell (Leicester)