A valiant Saints showing wasn’t enough to earn the spoils as Leicester Tigers secured a 17-8 LV= Cup success at Welford Road.
First-half scores from Sebastian de Chaves and Laurence Pearce secured the win, but Jim Mallinder’s youthful side produced a performance to be proud of.
Saints enjoyed plenty of possession at the home of their fierce rivals and competed well throughout, with a well-worked Howard Packman try giving them late hope of a win.
But Leicester, having introduced experienced first-teamers such as Logovi’i Mulipola and Matt Smith from the bench, had enough to see the game out.
The defeat ended Saints’ 100 per cent record in the competition, but they will still be confident of progressing from Pool 2 as they continue to pursue a home final.
And the experience gained by a team packed with young players will be invaluable as they showed they could handle a fixture at a close-to-full Welford Road.
On a pitch that, in places, resembled Shrek’s swamp, it was always going to be a forward battle in the latest instalment of the east midlands derby rivalry.
And it was to be Tigers who drew first blood up front as their big men put the squeeze on from a lineout drive and de Chaves picked up to dive over the line.
Williams added the extras and Tigers were keen to go for the corner at every opportunity, desperate to assert their early authority.
Saints, with debutants Tom Ryder and Cam Dolan impressing, weren’t being outfought, though, scrapping for their lives at the breakdown and attempting to earn some territory.
Tigers had been successful in keeping them at arm’s length, but after Jack Roberts knocked on inside his own 22, Saints won a penalty at the scrum.
Hooley made the kick to earn his team their first points of the contest with the clock having just ticked past the 20-minute mark.
Saints were suddenly making all the running with their forwards trucking it up, making use of Tigers’ stream of knock-ons.
But the home defending was fierce and Saints were soon hit with the sucker punch as Roberts’ scything run from halfway took Tigers to within range and Pearce scored.
Williams again added the extras and Mallinder’s men, having had plenty of the ball, found themselves 14-3 down with eight minutes to go before the break.
Saints were agonisingly close to reducing the deficit as Teimana Harrison fumbled at the last before obstruction saw a Dom Waldouck try ruled out.
The away side were knocking on the door with the clock having hit 40 but somehow Tigers survived, with an errant Joel Hodgson pass the final act of an intriguing half.
Buoyed by that sizeable reprieve, Tigers emerged eager to put the game beyond Saints early in the second half.
The men in lime managed to stay strong, resisting the waves of pressure that were engulfing them, and they gave themselves hope before the end.
Sam Olver’s expertly executed grubber kick found Packman and the speedy wing scored in the corner.
The conversion was missed, leaving Saints six points down with 15 minutes to go, and Williams shut the door on hopes of a victory as he landed a late penalty.
But Saints scrapped until the end, narrowly missing out on a losing bonus point after a late scrum five metres from the Tigers line failed to yield reward.
Leicester: Bell; Morris, Catchpole (Smith 72), Roberts (Hepetema 62), Thompstone; Williams, Harrison (Mele 54); Rizzo (Brugnara 54), Thacker (Briggs 54), Balmain (Mulipola 54); Peterson, De Chaves (Whetton 51); Gibson (Beckett 66), Barbieri, Pearce.
Saints: Collins; Elliott, Waldouck, Stephenson (Hutchinson 72), Packman; Hooley (Olver 52), Hodgson (A Day 52); E Waller (Hobbs-Awoyemi 66), Williams (Marshall 72), Denman (Parkins 72); Ryder (Onojaife 62), Woolford; Dowson, Harrison (Nutley 63), Dolan.
Referee: Nigel Owens