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Tom Collins shows his promise as Northampton hit back against Leicester

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/09/2017 Michael Aylwin at Franklin's Gardens
Tom Collins of Northampton breaks with the ball to score a try during Nothampton’s derby win against Leicester © Getty Images Tom Collins of Northampton breaks with the ball to score a try during Nothampton’s derby win against Leicester

We should not really be surprised, but anyone who knew only the Northampton that were torn limb from limb at Twickenham the weekend before would have been. The Saints are used to bouncing back from harrowing experiences such as that, and this they duly did in front of their faithful, against their bitterest rivals. The full catharsis of a bonus-point fourth try eluded them but this was a comprehensive dismantling of Leicester, their first win over the Tigers in eight attempts.

Last week was not the first that Northampton have had to spend ruminating over a hideous humiliation. After a while, the concern is the bracing sting of them starts to dull, but this was the first of the new season – it was the first match, full stop – so the reaction was vigorous. If the 50-point defeat against Saracens had not been enough to raise the blood, the visit of Leicester was always likely to have completed the transformation.

From the off, Northampton were unrecognisable from the listless rabble of last week. There was snap, if not always precision, in everything they did. Courtney Lawes looked like the Lions player he is, liberated from the engine room for a romp off the flank; Dylan Hartley looked like the record-breaking England captain he is.

But for all the big names and expensive signings, one man who looks ready to fulfil the promise of recent seasons is Tom Collins, the nippy left winger. His outside break set Saints on a glorious counterattack after around 10 minutes, further developed by the galloping Michael Paterson, and Saints had a foothold in the Leicester 22. They used it well. George North had a charge down the left, and when Northampton swung the ball right, after another heavy carry by Lawes, Kieran Brookes slipped a lovely ball to Luther Burrell, who crashed over to much rejoicing.

If Leicester had an edge it was at scrum time, but George Ford pushed a penalty wide from one such. It was a brief respite, which had needed points. Saints were soon back on the attack, Lawes at it again, so too Hartley, until the latter managed to squeeze his way over round the side of a ruck for a 14-0 lead. Ford and Harry Mallinder exchanged penalties before the break, Leicester starting to develop some attacks of their own, but the half finished as it the majority of it had been conducted, with Leicester defending desperately against waves of furious Saints.

They could not quite maintain their intensity into the second half, or perhaps it was more that Leicester increased theirs. North had a tilt at the corner, but the pass releasing him was forward. Meanwhile, a Ben Youngs up and under and vigorous follow-up won Ford the chance to earn Leicester another three points.

But multiples of three do not cut it against a side who have rediscovered their try-scoring touch. And it was Collins who, once again, showed the way. He had been Saints’ lonely flame during the hell of the weekend before, and now joined by more this week he was positively on fire.One break early in the second half had the Franklin’s Gardens crowd off its feet, and with 10 minutes to go he had them jumping.

He serviced a ruck a little outside the Leicester 22, feeding Nic Groom. When the scrum-half returned the favour with an inside ball, he was away, coming off his left foot brilliantly to beat Telusa Veainu, no less, for Northampton’s third.

All that remained was the quest for a full house of points to purge the pain of Twickenham. They could not manage it. Indeed, a brilliant solo score by Jonny May in the last minute was consolation of sorts for Leicester after a dispiriting week of their own. But the day belonged entirely to their hosts.


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