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Tigers are Premiership champions: Leicester 37 Northampton 17

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Leicester Tigers are Aviva Premiership champions after a 37-17 play-off final victory over Northampton Saints that was full of drama. Leicester skipper Toby Flood did not last the first half because of concussion, while Northampton assistant coach Dorian West, speaking during a pitchside television interview, accused Tigers boss Richard Cockerill of "intimidating" match officials. And Saints captain Dylan Hartley's British and Irish Lions hopes appear to lie in tatters after was sent off for dissent. The England hooker was dismissed during first-half injury time by referee Wayne Barnes for appearing to swear in the official's direction. Hartley had been warned about his conduct just two minutes beforehand. The game ultimately went Tigers' way as wings Niall Morris and Vereneki Goneva, lock Graham Kitchener and Lions centre Manu Tuilagi scored tries, with Flood booting a penalty and conversion and his replacement George Ford kicking four penalties. But Northampton, despite being down to 14 men for half the contest, conjured tries as Stephen Myler, Ben Foden and Lee Dickson all collected touchdowns, with Myler adding one conversion. Leicester deservedly lifted their first Premiership title since 2010 in front of an 81,000 crowd, but it will be overshadowed by Hartley's red card and the ensuing fall-out. Leicester arrived in the final for a ninth successive season, and they paraded a starting line-up featuring six Lions. Hartley was the solitary Lion in Northampton's ranks, but Saints' impressive semi-final victory over Saracens confirmed genuine title pedigree despite finishing fourth following the 22-game regular league season. Leicester, though, flew out of the starting blocks, scoring 10 points in eight points with such authority that Northampton were left wondering what had hit them. Flood kicked a penalty, and then his defence-splitting inside pass sent Goneva clear. Centre Anthony Allen took the move on before Flood teased Saints' defence and timed his scoring pass perfectly to Morris. Flood landed the conversion, and Leicester - 36-8 conquerors of Northampton when the teams last met two months ago - were off and running. But their opponents' response was impressive, hitting back when Dickson took a quick penalty and centre Luther Burrell acted as a strong link to send Myler over. Leicester then suffered a couple of injury scares, firstly when Lions flanker Tom Croft landed on his shoulder after he was lifted in a lineout, before Flood came off second best following a crunching Courtney Lawes tackle. The Leicester coaching staff were left fuming by Lawes' hit, and Flood needed five minutes of treatment until he went off for concussion checks, with Bath-bound Ford taking over from him. Flood's departure temporarily left Leicester disorganised, and the Northampton pack camped inside Tigers' 22 through a series of scrums as it was confirmed Flood would not be returning. But Leicester soaked up the pressure and forged their way back downfield when full-back Mathew Tait sprinted clear into space, and Ford, on his final Tigers appearance, kicked Leicester 13-5 ahead. Northampton, frustrated not to have converted territorial supremacy into points, thought they had claimed a second try five minutes before half-time after Foden powered over the line, but Tigers lock Kitchener got underneath him to prevent a clear-cut touchdown. Television match official Graham Hughes took a long time deliberating before ruling in Leicester's favour, but both Foden and his watching rugby director Jim Mallinder could not believe it. But matters then disintegrated for Saints. Myler, having been told by Barnes, that he could not put a 22-metre restart into touch on the full during injury time, promptly did so and the official went back infield for a scrum. Northampton then infringed, Hartley lost his cool and he received a straight red card, trudging off as Ford kicked the penalty for a 16-5 interval advantage. Foden cut the arrears with a try early in the second half, but that was cancelled out by Kitchener's touchdown before resilient Northampton struck again when Dickson crossed and Myler converted. It was heroic stuff in adversity from Northampton, yet Leicester's numerical advantage had to tell eventually, and scores from Tuilagi and Goneva finished Saints off. Hartley could now face a minimum six-week ban. Rugby Football Union disciplinary bosses are unlikely to take a lenient view, considering he has already served three previous suspensions during his firebrand career. He can expect a disciplinary hearing early next week. The Lions leave London for Hong Kong on Monday, with Hartley currently one of three hookers among a 37-man squad. Lions head coach Warren Gatland, a strict disciplinarian, could now launch an immediate search to replace Hartley. Ireland hooker Rory Best would be favourite to join a trip that is highlighted by three Tests against Australia.

Tigers are Premiership champions: Leicester 37 Northampton 17


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