Jim Mallinder says Saints used Dylan Hartley’s red card as motivation for their ‘tremendous’ east midlands derby win against Leicester at Franklin’s Gardens.
Hartley was dismissed in the 17th minute for elbowing Tigers centre Matt Smith, but Saints conjured up a superb show of spirit to claim a sensational 23-19 Aviva Premiership victory.
Jamie Elliott’s try three minutes from time secured the victory, bringing back memories of the magical play-off semi-final win against Tigers in May.
Hartley’s dismissal was the only blot on the copybook, with referee JP Doyle, who initially wanted to award a yellow card, dishing out a red on advice from TMO, Sean Davey.
“In terms of the red card, it’s disappointing,” said Saints boss Mallinder. “Dylan’s got to keep his arms down, but he was being held and I don’t think there was any malice in it.
“I think Smith went down pretty easily to be honest, which was disappointing.
“It’s a tough game. If you looked at that 80 minutes of rugby, it was hard, physical, some great tackles. Some of them were quite high and people got penalised for those.
“I don’t think there was any malice in that and JP’s first reaction of a yellow card would have been the correct decision.”
Saints were also reduced to 14 men when they beat Tigers in May’s memorable 21-20 semi-final win, with Salesi Ma’afu having seen red for punching Tom Youngs.
And Tom Wood, who captained Saints on that occasion, going on to score the winning try, was keen to conjure up memories of that success after taking over as skipper from Hartley.
“I tell you what Tom Wood said... let’s do it for Dylan Hartley,” said Mallinder, when asked what he said to his players at half-time. “That was really the theme.
“You don’t want to be down to 14 men but what we have got is playing with 14 men against Leicester and knowing we can come back and win.
“We made a tactical decision to take a back (Tom Stephenson) and put on a forward (Mike Haywood) because we played at Welford Road a few years back and suffered.
“We kept seven forwards on the field and got battered up front, and you learn from your mistakes.
“I thought we were outstanding on this occasion. It was a tremendous, spirited performance.
“We didn’t just rely on spirit and guts, we did some good technical and tactical work. That’s what’s so pleasing.”