Leicester gave an emotional Aaron Mauger the perfect send-off by snatching a dramatic victory in a ferocious, chaotic, East Midlands derby.
Leicester sacked Mauger on Monday, the day after they won the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but the former All Blacks centre was determined to take charge of the side for one last time before Matt O’Connor replaces him.
Two late, long-range penalties from Owen Williams, the second from half-way, took Leicester into the top four and gave Mauger a fourth win in six Premiership matches since he took sole charge following the sacking of Richard Cockerill on New Year’s Day.
Mauger, who was hugged by Leicester players and members of their backroom staff at the final whistle, was too emotional to talk to the media after the match but assistant coach Geordan Murphy summed up his mood.
“It’s an emotional day for Mauge. He said on Monday he was disappointed he didn’t get the job. I thought he handled it really well. We came together as a side on Monday and he said the board had made their decision and it was going to go a different way,” Murphy said.
“He didn’t want that to affect the performance in the week. So he did a great job on setting the team up to come to Franklin’s Gardens where it’s always tough to get a win. The guys obviously wanted to give him a good send-off and I think they did that. The players really like him, he’s a great coach. The guys will be disappointed, as a few of them have said. Having said that, we have another great coach coming in so it’s probably easy for the players, they just go out and go to work and hopefully keep getting results like that.”
Leicester’s performance, like their season, was uneven but their cussedness saw them through when Northampton appeared to be heading for a bonus-point win.
Northampton rattled in three tries in the first half, the first after just 70 seconds when Telusa Veainu fumbled Stephen Myler’s hoisted kick and Ahsee Tuala pounced. But they were denied the bonus-point try when Christian Day brushed the touchline under pressure from J P Pietersen’s tackle.
Northampton lost momentum in the second half with Ben Youngs, back from England duty, scoring the try that began Leicester’s revival after clever interplay with Pietersen.
Leicester went down to 14 men when replacement lock Mike Williams was sin-binned for a high tackle on Paul Hill but Northampton failed to capitalise. Leicester scored 10 points while Williams was off the pitch with replacement flanker Lachlan McCaffrey dotting down after Pietersen had almost made it to the line.
Owen Williams, who took over the kicking duties after Freddie Burns failed a head injury assessment at half-time, finished things off by punishing Northampton when their front row fell foul of referee Greg Garner.
Despite the presence of England captain Dylan Hartley, who started his first club match in five months, Northampton were penalised five times in scrums.
“Aaron has clearly done a good job in terms of winning a trophy last week then pushing Leicester into the top four at the moment,” said Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder.
“There is always going to be emotion involved in this game whatever. We didn’t worry too much about what state of mind Leicester were in. We knew they would be revved up.”
Scores 5-0 Tuitavake try; 7-0 Myler con; 7-5 Thompstone try; 7-7 Burns con; 12-7 Tuala try; 14-7 Myler con; 14-10 Burns pen; 14-13 Burns pen; 19-13 Picamoles try; 19-16 Burns dropped goal; 22-16 Myler pen; 22-21 B Youngs try; 22-23 O Williams con; 25-23 Myler pen; 28-23 Myler pen; 28-28 McCaffrey try; 28-30 O Williams con; 31-30 Myler pen; 31-33 O Williams pen; 31-36 O Williams pen.
Northampton: A Tuala; B Foden, N Tuitavake (L Burrell 71), H Mallinder, G North; S Myler, N Groom (L Dickson 61); A Waller (E Waller 69), D Hartley (M Haywood 57), K Brookes (P Hill 61), C Lawes, C Day T Harrison 61), T Wood (captain), C Clark, L Picamoles (J Gibson 69).
Leicester: T Veainu; A Thompstone, M Tait, M Mermoz (J Roberts 70), JP Pietersen; F Burns (O Williams 41), B Youngs; E Genge, T Youngs (capt, G McGuigan 61), D Cole, D Barrow, G Kitchener (M Williams 65), M Fitzgerald , B O’Connor (L McCaffrey 41), L Hamilton.
Referee G Garner (Warwickshire)