Northampton humiliate Leicester to top the Premiership

London (AFP) –


Northampton Saints moved top of the English Premiership on Saturday after thrashing historic rivals Leicester Tigers 36-13 despite losing three key players shortly before kick-off.

Saints hold a four-point lead over last season's runners-up Exeter, who eased to a 38-3 victory over sorry Wasps.

The table-toppers going into this round of matches Bristol are five points adrift but play London Irish on Sunday.

Leicester, though, look in desperate straits.

They are 22 points better off than defending champions Saracens who were hit with a record 35-point deduction for breaching the salary cap.

Saracens chipped away at that deficit on Friday by beating Bath 25-12.

Saints, whose only Premiership title came in 2014, had no trouble dealing with Tigers despite losing England stalwart Courtney Lawes, Wales fly-half Dan Biggar and former new Zealand regular Owen Franks after they all failed fitness tests shortly before kick-off.

Matt Proctor's early brace on his Saints debut was followed up by scores from Api Ratuniyarawa, Tom Collins and Fraser Dingwall in a free-flowing display.

"It's a bit of a trifecta for us really," Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd told the BBC.

"We won and got five points so that's a pretty good start.

"We played well in more patches than we played badly and to get a win for our supporters against Leicester at home makes it a pretty good day.

"We lost 260 international caps before the start and I just thought people like Alex Moon, Ehren Painter and James Grayson came of age today."

Geordan Murphy, Leicester's head coach, was dismayed by the defeat in what has been a dreadful start to the season -- they have registered just one win in five Premiership matches.

"Incredibly disappointed is the way I would describe that performance and the way I feel," said Murphy.

"The manner of the defeat is sickening as this is a very special one this game, which means a lot to myself and a lot of the players."

On Friday, England captain Owen Farrell kicked 20 points on his return to club duty following the World Cup as Saracens defeated Bath.

The defending Premiership champions were playing for the first time since accepting their points deduction and a £5.4 million fine.

Saracens scored the only try of the game with winger Sean Maitland crossing in the 33rd minute.

Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were also making their first appearances for Saracens since losing to South Africa in the World Cup final on November 2, while Elliot Daly made his debut at full-back following his move from Wasps in the summer.

"We have now played two games in the Premiership post the salary cap decision," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.

"One of those was Gloucester away when we had none of our international players available and now Bath away.

"To have won them both is a good start for us in the campaign to stay up."