Leicester Tigers win record tenth English crown
leicestertigers.com and James Mortimer 28 May 2013 Getty Images
Saints, who played their part in a thrilling and absorbing final, struck first in the second half through Ben Foden, but Graham Kitchener and Manu Tuilagi crossed for Tigers either side of a Lee Dickson try to put Tigers two scores ahead.
And with Saints a threat throughout, Vereniki Goneva settled any nerves with the fourth Tigers try six minutes from time.
Tigers retained the same starting line-up from the semi-final win over Harlequins, making one change on the bench where the fit again Ed Slater came in for Thomas Waldrom.
Tigers settled into the game quickly and were awarded an early penalty when Soane Tonga'Uiha was offside at a ruck. Flood, who captained the Tigers from fly-half, landed the kick from a central position to give Tigers a 3-0 lead in the fifth minute.
They continued to press, scoring the game's first try three minutes later. The move began with a dart along the left flank by Ben Youngs. Niki Goneva then made further inroads on Flood's inside pass, linked up with Anthony Allen before Flood rejoined the attack to send Morris in at the right corner.
It was Morris' eighth try of the campaign and, converted by Flood, extended the Leicester lead to 10-0.
Foden was the architect of Northampton's first attack of the game, sniping down the blind side of a ruck and sending a pass out to Ken Pisi on the right flank. But Pisi was well tackled by Croft before Saints knocked on as they tried to secure possession.
Saints maintained the pressure with a quick penalty by Lee Dickson after Tuilagi failed to release in the tackle. Dickson was supported by Luther Burrell and Myler finished at the left corner, despite the efforts of Mat Tait. Myler's conversion went across the posts as Tigers held a 10-5 lead.
Foden threatened again on a turnover on halfway but his offload was intercepted by Toby Flood, who cleared to touch in Saints territory.
Courtney Lawes then hit Flood with a late tackle on the Northampton 10 metre line. Referee Wayne Barnes awarded Tigers the penalty and spoke to Lawes while Flood received lengthy treatment before the Tigers man was eventually able to continue. With Flood dusting himself down, Ben Youngs took on the penalty but pulled his kick across the posts.
Flood's return to action was brief and he was replaced by Ford with 16 minutes to go to half-time. Jordan Crane took over as captain.
Saints pressed again with Tonga'Uiha, Mujati and then Foden taking play up to the Leicester line where they were held up by stout Tigers defence. Tigers held firm at the resulting scrum and when Saints failed to use possession at the next ruck, the scrum was awarded to Tigers. Leicester were then awarded a penalty and Ford cleared to touch.
Saints were enjoying plenty of possession at this stage but good Tigers defence, isolating Burrell to win another penalty on one occasion, kept them at arm's length.
A brilliant 60m break by Tait turned defence into attack for Tigers and took them deep into the Saints 22. He was stopped 5m out but with Saints players retreating Tigers struggled to make the most of the position before Burrell was pinged for not releasing. Ford made no mistake with a simple kick to nudge Tigers 13-5 ahead.
It was end-to-end stuff and when Burrell robbed Goneva of possession it set up another Saints counterattack. Northampton switched play to the right but Ford was alert to the danger and forced Pisi into touch.
Saints thought they had scored a second try six minutes before the break when Jamie Elliott combined with Foden for the full-back to cross at the left corner. But he was brilliantly tackled by Graham Kitchener, who held up the ball long enough to force Foden into touch in-goal before he could get the ball down.
Tigers weathered the storm and won a scrum penalty when Tonga'Uiha went to ground. Ford took on the kick from the Saints 10m line but was wide of the posts.
With time almost up for half-time Myler, who was told by referee Barnes that he could not kick the ball out from the drop out, kicked the ball straight in to touch. The game restarted with a Tigers scrum put-in and Leicester won a penalty in front of the posts. Saints captain Hartley, who had already been warned by Barnes, reacted after the award of the penalty and was shown the red card by the referee, reducing Saints to 14 men.
Ford knocked over the penalty to send Tigers in 16-5 ahead at the break.
Saints replacement hooker Mike Haywood came on for Elliott at half-time.
And it was Saints who began the second half on the front foot, making light of the numbers to score their second try. They worked an overlap on the left wing and Foden joined the line from full-back to collect James Wilson's pass and score at the left corner. Myler's conversion went wide as Tigers held a 16-10 lead.
Tigers struck back within two minutes. Ben Youngs pounced on the ball as it squirted out of a Saints scrum, Allen set up the ruck and Kitchener picked a line past the two props to score his third try of the campaign.
Tigers went close to a third try with 25 minutes left. Ford made a snipe down the side of a ruck and up to the line where Allen and Tuilagi were in support but the ball was spilled forward. Play was brought back for a tackle off the ball and Ford's kick, with the aid of the left post extended Tigers' lead to 24-10.
Back came the Saints with another quick break, led by the impressive Foden. Burrell spotted a gap in the Tigers defence and offloaded to Dickson, who scooped the ball off the floor and dived over in the same movement. Myler's conversion cut the Tigers lead to 24-17.
Saints were looking dangerous whenever Foden and Burrell got the ball, but Tigers had their own dangerman in Tuilagi. There looked little on when the centre collected possession on halfway but he found a way past Tom Wood's tackle and had the legs to make it to the line untouched for Tigers' third try. Ford was unable to add the extras as Tigers led 29-17 with 13 minutes left.
Saints refused to lie down and launched another attack from deep with a tap penalty. They took play up towards the Leicester 22 but a forward pass surrendered the position.
Instead it was Tigers who settled the final with a fourth try with seven minutes to go. Ken Pisi's offload could only find replacement forward Steve Mafi who had Goneva in support to score his seventh try of the season to extend Tigers' advantage to 34-17.
Ford added a penalty with the last kick of the game to set the seal on a 37-17 victory and secure a tenth title for Tigers.