Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester set up derby semi-final showdown

Manu Tuilagi in action for Leicester Tigers against Saracens. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-141205-140343001

Manu Tuilagi in action for Leicester Tigers against Saracens. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-141205-140343001

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So once again Leicester face a showdown with their great derby rivals Northampton Saints, this time for a place in the Aviva Premiership final which was contested between these two sides last season.

Leicester did what they needed to do and won in wholly unconvincing fashion at home to a second string Saracens’ side.

However, with Saracens already guaranteed to finish top of the league, their side selected to start had nothing to lose, only reputations to enhance and some, most notably scrum half Ben Spencer, did just that.

Tigers scored a penalty try and crossed the line through Manu Tuilagi, Blaine Scully and Graham Kitchener to finish 31-27 winners but they gifted a weakened Saracens side far too many points for a side wanting to be contenders for the title once again.

On the other end of the scale, Northampton Saints had the perfect dress rehearsal for the semi-final which will take place at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night, coming back from being 13-0 down to blow London Wasps out of the water to win by a record 74-13.

Leicester, who rested the Youngs brothers, Julian Salvi, Niki Goneva, Anthony Allen, Ed Slader, Jordan Crane and Jamie Gibson, showed glimpses of what they can do, scoring a couple of nice tries with Manu Tuilagi regularly at the fore of Tigers’ good work.

But Leicester struggled to break down a tight and highly organised Saracens defence until the visitors went down temporarily to 13 men when first Michael Tagicakibau was shown yellow for a tip tackle on Marcos Ayerza and then flanker Justin Melck was shown red in the game’s defining moment.

Melck was sent from the field for an alleged eye-gouging incident, but his club strongly deny the claim.

Ben Spencer crossed twice for Saracens, who also scored a penalty try before Jack Wilson crossed.

However the win could prove costly for Leicester with Blaine Scully, Boris Stankovich, Geoff Parling and Owen Williams all being substituted with apparent injuries and David Mele also left the field for concussion treatment before returning.

Leicester will want to call on the services of all five men in some form to give themselves the best chance of reaching a record 10th consecutive Aviva Premiership final.

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the day on Saturday came for a substitution in the 57th minute when Tom Croft replaced Steve Mafi.

Croft has missed the majority of the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee back in September.

The British and Irish Lion looked slightly off his normal pace but came through unharmed and excelled in the line out.