Leicester boss Richard Cockerill admitted teenager George Ford had an “off day” with the boot after Tigers edged past Aviva Premiership rivals Saints at Welford Road on Saturday.
But Cockerill was in no mood to condemn the 19-year-old, who missed five penalties on just his second Premiership start of the campaign after replacing unavailable England fly-half Toby Flood.
“George is a very good player,” said Cockerill, following Leicester’s 16-12 success.
“He had an off day with the boot, but he did some very good things with ball in hand.
“He will learn from it. He has had some pretty good days as well - in a semi-final and a final last season - and that is part and parcel of young people developing.
“I will put my arm around him and encourage him, and we will carry on. People want him to play all the time or go somewhere else to play, but we have to develop George and look after him.
“He will play enough rugby here along with Toby Flood. If you want to play for England, play here in front of Toby and then you will be in the England team.
“We all know young players are going to make mistakes, and George made mistakes today.
“He is a young lad developing, and you are going to have these days with young players. He will play next week, and he will battle through and work hard, which he always does.”
Cockerill continued: “Ford could potentially be a world-class player, but there is a curve. He is 19.
“If he sits here and develops for two more years, he will still be only 21 and will still have 10, 12 or 15 years of rugby left in him, so what’s the rush?
“The best person in this whole George Ford scenario is George Ford. He is a great kid, and he understands exactly where he is at. It will be peaks and troughs.”
Tigers prevailed courtesy of centre Matt Smith’s second half try and 11 points from Ford.
On another day, Ford’s inaccuracy might have proved costly, but Northampton, who were restricted to four Ryan Lamb penalties, lacked the firepower and tactical acumen to punish Leicester.
The game, shorn of several England players through a combination of unavailability a week before the autumn Test series opener against Fiji and injuries, never moved out of second gear.
Despite the game’s derby status, it lacked aggression for the large part, and once Leicester edged in front they were able to close out the game reasonably comfortably.
Ford’s half-partner Ben Youngs, meanwhile, put in a resilient 80 minute shift at the coalface to prove his fitness ahead of England’s appointment with Fiji.
“You would think Ben will be in the (England) 23 next weekend,” Cockerill added.
“Danny Care has been very good, so that will be Stuart’s choice. Stuart (Lancaster) trusted us to manage Ben, and he had 80 minutes under his belt today and is ready to go in the Test arena.”