Leicester Tigers 18 Northampton Saints 23: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

There were some special moments at Welford Road on Saturday afternoon - and some not so special - but the one that stirred the emotions the most arrived in the 79th minute.

Sunday, 25th April 2021, 3:11 pm
Sam Matavesi scored a crucial try for Saints

After Oisin Heffernan had announced himself in the east midlands derby by winning a huge penalty for his team, Lewis Ludlam and Rory Hutchinson roared with delight.

The pair embraced, with their passion there for all to see.

Here we had two Saints Academy kids living out their childhood dreams, showing the kind of elation that those who wish to follow them would love to sample one day.

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It was a moment to savour and one to save to show those players coming through the club's successful system what can be achieved if you work hard, stick at it and believe in yourself.

Hutchinson and Ludlam were just two of 10 players on the day to have emerged from the Saints Academy.

It continues to churn out players of immense talent and character.

But it would be wrong to exclusively base this latest Welford Road win solely on the homegrown talent.

Lewis Ludlam delivered another all-action display

Because the likes of Matt Proctor and Dan Biggar displayed immense commitment to the cause, too.

Proctor made not one, but two try-saving interventions during the first half.

And then there was what Biggar did late on, something that will go down in derby-day folklore.

The Wales fly-half looked for all the world like he would be forced from the field with five minutes to go.

Tommy Freeman was not fazed on derby day

He had to be helped off by two members of the medical staff and, with JJ Tonks having just been sent to the sin bin by referee Karl Dickson, it looked like Saints would be down to 13.

Surely it was only a matter of time before Tigers, who were applying wave after wave of pressure, scored and gave themselves a conversion to win the game?

But Biggar had other ideas, not only coming back on in Lazarus-like fashion, but getting down to make a tap tackle on Tigers dynamo Jasper Wiese.

It prevented a try and Biggar kept ploughing on, right up until the point where he booted the ball out to put the seal on yet another memorable win for Saints at Welford Road.

Dan Biggar put his body on the line

They have now won there on four of their past five visits.

Having gone more than 11 years without a win at Leicester, Saints are now making it a regular habit.

And how sweet that tastes for those of a black, green and gold persuasion.

Because not only did the team deliver the bragging rights, they also kept their top-four flame burning bright.

Saints lost their final seven away matches in 2020, but they have won on six of their first seven away trips in 2021.

A switch has been flicked and they are now able to keep pace with the likes of Harlequins and Sale Sharks, who also claimed dramatic away wins on Saturday.

Saints are still fifth and it's fair to say had they lost at Leicester, their hopes of making the play-offs in the final five games of the regular season would have looked extremely slim.

But they are now in the hunt and the fact they were eliminated from the Challenge Cup by Ulster is now looking like a blessing without disguise.

Because Saints desperately need this next two weeks without a game to recharge the batteries after expending every ounce of energy they had at Welford Road.

They claimed the win despite being hit by three injury withdrawals before kick-off and two injury issues during the first period, with Alex Mitchell and Piers Francis forced off.

Bodies were battered and bruised, but souls were not as Saints celebrated in the Leicester sun once again.

It was a sight for sore eyes, and the joy that the likes of Hutchinson and Ludlam shared will surely live long in the memory.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Did what he could to make inroads for his side, carrying the fight from inside his own half and looking largely secure... 8

MATT PROCTOR

A hugely important display from the versatile back who returned from injury to make two vital try-saving tackles, while also offering plenty with ball in hand... 9

RORY HUTCHINSON

Showed great awareness to intercept a pass and walk in for a timely Saints score, and also fronted up defensively on derby day... 8.5

PIERS FRANCIS

Did everything he could to stay on the field, despite his shoulder popping out of place twice, but was eventually forced off at half-time... 7.5

TOMMY FREEMAN

This young man isn't fazed by any situation and he showed so much confidence here, keeping Tigers on their toes with some lovely skills... 8

DAN BIGGAR - CHRON STAR MAN

An incredible showing from this man, who displayed his immense commitment and class as he battled through injury to steer his side to victory... 9.5

ALEX MITCHELL

Saints will hope his injury is not a serious one as he once again showed how razor-sharp he can be during the short time he spent on the field... 7.5

ALEX WALLER

The skipper knows all about this fixture and he didn't shy away from the battle, putting in the hard yards and keeping the ship steady as best he could... 7.5

SAM MATAVESI

Scored a vital try for Saints, finishing off a neat move and once again he had a big influence on the game... 8

PAUL HILL

'Sonny Bill Hill' as he was labelled by boss Chris Boyd was always looking for openings and he lasted 66 minutes as he gave everything he had here... 8.5

DAVID RIBBANS

Grabbed himself another try at Welford Road as he produced yet another incredible performance in a Saints shirt... 9

ALEX MOON

Does so much work for the team and he was constantly trying to bash holes in Tigers as he took the fight to them... 8

TOM WOOD

Mr Derby Day delivered again as he went the full 80 minutes, not only making a huge amount of tackles but carrying hard and finding gaps when he could... 9.5

LEWIS LUDLAM

There's not really much more that can be said about this man. He gives 200 per cent to the cause every week and never takes a backward step... 9.5

SHAUN ADENDORFF

Came in at late notice for Teimana Harrison and he was a force of nature at times during the first half, carrying with incredible determination... 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

TOM JAMES (for Mitchell 31)

The scrum-half got his first taste of derby day and he didn't look fazed by it, trying to keep Saints on the front foot and getting good distance on his box kicks... 7

AHSEE TUALA (for Francis 40)

Was given a tough time defensively with Nadolo running down his wing, but showed some nice footwork to buy Saints some time and space and won a key penalty... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Matavesi 55)

Expended a huge amount of energy during his 25 minutes on the field, giving everything he had to get Saints over the line... 7.5

NICK AUTERAC (for Waller 55)

Came on at a time when Tigers were starting to put pressure on Saints and did his defensive work well... 7

ALEX COLES (for Moon 59)

Another Academy product, the lock was up for the fight late on and was part of a huge defensive effort... 7