North on song as Saints go top
PREMIERSHIP[ WRAP: Welsh wing George North contributed one of the tries as Northampton Saints went top of the Premiership with a fine 30-22 win over Harlequins on Saturday.
North, Tom Collins and Mickey Haywood touched down for Saints before Ahsee Tuala's try secured a bonus point and a fourth successive win sending them top ahead of Newcastle, who beat struggling London Irish 29-17 on Friday, on points difference.
Champions Exeter missed the chance to regain top spot as they slipped to a 20-13 loss at Leicester bringing to an end a three-match winning streak.
Tries by Australian Sevens star Nick Malouf and England international Jonny May sealed victory for the Tigers and only their second win in their last five meetings with their opponents, who for the first time in six matches failed to come back from being behind at half-time to win.
Next up for Exeter are in-form Newcastle, but the Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards is not getting carried away with his team's early season form.
"It means absolutely nothing at all, we've got 17 games left," said Richards, whose side's only defeat this term was against Saracens.
"If we're there at the end of the season it will be a Leicester City scenario, because we haven't quite got the strength in depth that a lot of these other boys have.
"But, having said that, we're there and let's see how we get on."
Sale have been labelled dark horses for the title this season and their 57-10 dismantling of Gloucester on Friday -- former Australia golden boy James O'Connor scoring a try after coming on for his debut -- gave an indication they might live up to that tag.
However, their director of rugby Steve Diamond knows they need to improve their away form if they are to do so.
"We just need to put that form on the road," said Diamond. "What we've got to do is bottle what we've done this week, what we've done before London Irish and take it to Harlequins.
"We've got a real team on our hands... but what I've stressed to the lads is why not have a crack at it this year?
"I know many coaches who say 'it's a three-year plan'. It's rubbish, let's have a crack this year."
Saracens are third, a point adrift of the top two after a 25-3 win away at bottom side Worcester Warriors.
All the Saturday matches!
Leicester 20-13 Exeter
Jonny May made it five tries in five Premiership games for his new club Leicester Tigers as they downed the defending champions Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road.
In an attritional clash in poor weather, Matt O'Connor's side went in at the break 10-3 to the good thanks to Nick Malouf's try and the boot of George Ford who was flawless from the tee all day.
The game looked to have turned just before the hour mark however when Telusa Veainu saw yellow and the Chiefs were awarded a penalty try for a deliberate knock on with Lachie Turner waiting to go over in the corner.
But at 13-10 May came to the party with a fine solo score in the left corner after some quick thinking from Ben Youngs.
Ford drilled the extras and while the Chiefs did claim a losing bonus point late on thanks to Gareth Steenson's penalty, the Tigers could celebrate a morale-boosting win – their third on the spin in the league now.
Steenson slotted an early penalty for the visitors, who won here in impressive fashion last year on their way to the title, but it was Malouf who crashed over down the right after a long pass from Ford.
The England fly-half then slotted the extras and a drop goal and a penalty either side of the interval to open up a 13-3 lead.
The Chiefs – who had lost Julian Salvi to a yellow card in the first half – then came roaring back after Veainu's indiscretion but they had not counted on May who struck after Youngs released him when everyone thought the game had stopped but the referee was still playing advantage.
Steenson gave the Chiefs something to take home with them afterwards but it was a brutal display from the Tigers who bossed the breakdown and had Sione Kalamafoni in particular in fine form.
For Leicester Tigers:
Cons: Ford 2
For Exeter Chiefs:
Con: Penbaklty try does not require a conversion
Pens: Steenson 2
Yellow cards: Telusa Veainu (Leicester Tiugers, 56), Julian Salvi (Exeter Chiuefs, 22)
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Nick Malouf, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Luke Hamilton, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Valentino Mapapalangi, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Don Armand, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 MItch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Max Bodilly, 23 Phil Dollman.
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Paul Dix
TMO: David Sainsbury
Northampton 30-22 Harlequins
Northampton Saints moved themselves to the Premiership summit despite Harlequins making them work hard for a 30-22 triumph.
The hosts shaded a topsy-turvy first half 19-15, with George North, Tom Collins and Mike Haywood all going over at Franklin's Gardens.
Aaron Morris and Jamie Roberts had kept Quins alive in the first period, but after Ahsee Tuala wrapped up Saints' third try-bonus point on the bounce just after half-time, Dave Ward's try had the home fans biting their nails until the final whistle.
Saints got themselves off to the perfect start as winger North scored a trademark try after seven minutes.
Nic Groom's darting run set up an attacking lineout for Saints, and North capitalised from the driving maul, shrugging off one tackle and bulldozing through two more to cross the whitewash.
But that lead did not last long; after Saints advanced up the field from the kick-off it was a moment to forget for Luther Burrell. His loose pass was picked off by Morris, who ran all of 80 metres to score – with Marcus Smith converting well.
Northampton were back in front after 22 minutes however, building the pressure well deep in Quins territory before Tom Collins seared through the visitors' line on a reverse ball from Harry Mallinder – who converted the winger's try to make it 12-7.
The hosts continued to enjoy all the territory, and after Smith landed a mid-range penalty five minutes from the break, all hell broke loose.
First, a sublime handling move from the Saints involving Teimana Harrison, Nic Groom, Tuala and Courtney Lawes sent Haywood over for a fine score.
But after Smith missed a penalty in front of the posts, play went on with the clock ticking into the red and Quins hauled themselves back into the contest with Roberts running a straight line to touch down.
However, after ending the half brilliantly the Londoners had the worst possible start after the interval, with Tuala catching them cold and winning the race for Groom's chip through to ground the bonus-point try.
Mallinder then hit the post with a penalty after Charlie Matthews was pinged for a high tackle, but the No.10 made no mistake shortly after as Kyle Sinckler gave him another shot for pulling off Michael Paterson's scrum-cap.
Marland Yarde looked determined to score on his 100th Aviva Premiership appearance, but was bundled into touch five metres out on 54 minutes, but Quins skipper Ward set up a grandstand finish ten minutes later as he touched down from a driving maul.
Quins huffed and puffed but could not breach the home defence in the final ten minutes, with Stephen Myler then adding insult to injury and denying them a bonus point as he knocked a late scrum penalty through the uprights.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: North, Collins, Haywood, Tuala
Cons: Mallinder 2
Tries:Morris, Ward, Roberts
Cons: Smith 2
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Courtney Lawes (captain), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Sam Dickinson, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Ben Foden
Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Ben Glynn, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward (captain), 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Archie White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Philip Watters, Simon McConnell
TMO: Graham Hughes