LONDON - Northampton Saints marched into the English Premiership rugby final as they survived Salesi Ma'afu's red card to secure a shock 21-20 victory over champions Leicester yesterday at Franklin's Gardens.
Trailing 17-6 at halftime and then a man down when tighthead prop Ma'afu was dismissed for punching Tom Youngs, Jim Mallinder's side looked set for another painful defeat against the Tigers, just 12 months after losing to them in the Premiership final.
But George North and then Tom Wood in the closing stages scored for Saints, cancelling out Leicester's tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs as Mallinder's men held on to deny Leicester a 10th successive Premiership final appearance.
Saints' opponents in the final at Twickenham on May 31 will be Saracens or Harlequins, who meet on Saturday in the second semi-final.
Last season, Dylan Hartley's red card sent Northampton crashing to defeat in the final. But this time around, the Saints battled for more than 20 minutes with 14 men to produce a last-gasp victory.
Northampton pressed and pressed, but tighthead prop Ma'afu twice punched Youngs squarely on the jaw in an off-the-ball altercation.
After lengthy deliberation, Tigers hooker Youngs was sent to the sin-bin, while Ma'afu was sent off just ahead of the hour mark.
Leicester's impressive rearguard was eventually punctured when North capped a textbook line-out drive, with Saints finally over the whitewash.
Myler's nerveless conversion cut the deficit to one solitary point.
Replacement Owen Williams landed a penalty to extend the visitors' lead to four in the closing stages.
But Northampton punted a routine penalty to the corner with four minutes to play, pressing for the killer score which came when Leicester's gutsy defence was finally breached as Luther Burrell sent flanker Wood into the left corner.
Myler struck the post with his touchline conversion, to leave Saints needing to survive the final 30 seconds before they could celebrate at last.