Friday night rugby is something I’ve discovered since moving to Towcester and being fifteen minutes away from Franklin’s Gardens makes it even more accessible. I was one of the 13,491 lucky people to be in the ground this Friday just gone (16th May 2014) to view an amazing spectacle of full blooded fierce rugby union between two massive East Midlands Rivals.
Leicester Tigers are a modern day giant and the success they have had this last decade is a true testament to what has been built at the club. Northampton Saints are a team who are coming good, a side who tasted defeat to this Tigers side in last seasons Premiership Final. Some will argue that if it wasn’t for some poor discipline on the day, then it could very well have been Saints taking last seasons show piece. One thing is for sure, Northampton Saints can make the big finals, they just need to start winning some, to start what could be a period of success.
Northampton Saints headed into this Semi Final with home advantage after finishing 2nd in the seasons campaign. Leicester Tigers were 3rd after another typical strong finish after the 6 Nations campaign which strips them of their internationals for 6 weeks of the season. Leicester had beaten the Saints in the previous 9 contests, so it was going to take something extremely special to win this battle.
The game was played in a passionate atmosphere with both teams in full voice. Chants of TIGERS were returned with choruses of “when the Saints go marching in” it was a vocal bombardment from the sell out crowd. Leicester took control in the first half and scored a couple of tries in the process. A couple of sin bins were also dealt out as both sides demonstrated full bloodied play. The Saints could only score a couple of penalties as they went into the break 6-17 down to a Tigers side in control, it was going to take something special to turn this around.
The second half continued with the hard plays and Leicester had another player sin binned to which Saints tried to take advantage of. It became apparent after the break that the Saints had found another gear and suddenly possession was being kept into phases of over ten plays. A penalty brought the game back to 9-17 as Saints kept plugging away.
A tangle between Tom Youngs and Salesi Maafu saw Youngs sin binned but Maafu red carded. The Saints were suddenly down to fourteen men with memories of last years final back in everyone’s minds. The crowd were feeling it and as the game headed into the final quarter, George North found a way over the Tigers line to bring Saints back to within a score at 16-17.
The Saints didn’t let the numerical disadvantage put them off despite a penalty giving the Tigers a 20-16 lead. As the clock headed into the last five minutes, Saints kept turning the possessions into plays and were knocking on the Tigers line, asking their defense a lot of different questions.
Heading into the final 2 minutes, Tom Wood found a way over and the solid Tigers defense was breached again. Franklin’s Gardens was celebrating, everyone both on and off the pitch in Green and Gold jubilant. As the clock ticked into the final minute the conversion hit the post, Saints had 20 seconds to hold onto a 21-20 lead, their first lead of the night.
And hold onto it they did, as the clock ticked past 80 minutes the ball was kicked out in front of us as the referee brought the game to an end. Northampton Saints are going to Twickenham and boy did they deserve it, there is now a real opportunity to end this season in style, starting next weekend in Cardiff in the European Final against Bath.
Well done Saints! We are all extremely proud of you.