Leicester 24-15 Saracens, Aviva Premiership semi-final
The model of consistency - and success
May 12, 2012
Leicester's George Ford fends off Sarries' Charlie Hodgson © PA Photos
All seasons, no matter how traumatic, seem to end at Twickenham for Leicester Tigers.
For an eighth successive year they will take their place in the end-of-season showpiece - this time after one of their most testing journeys yet.
During a desperate autumn period, World Cup call ups and widespread injuries looked certain to derail their annual trip to HQ. They sunk as low as 11th in the table after losing five of their opening six fixtures. The critics were circling around director of rugby Richard Cockerill and their opponents were scenting the chance to kill off their wounded rivals before the trophy hunting season began.
But on May 26 the Tigers will charge out on to the Twickenham turf once again with their eyes focusing on a third Premiership title in four years.
And while their wise head played a leading role in turning the season around - including going on a run of 14 wins and one draw - their progression to the final owed just as much youngster George Ford, who was not even down to be in the match-day squad two days ago.
The teenager kicked 14 points in the match - and his accuracy from the tee was arguably his weakest suit on the day. A few wayward kicks and a couple of weak hits, though, won't dull what was an accomplished display.
The current IRB Toung Player of the Year was drafted at late notice after the withdrawal of England fly-half Toby Flood. But far from being overawed by the occasion, Ford enhanced his reputation from an exciting prospect to a real talent capable of guiding teams to finals.
While it was his on-the-money kicking from hand shone during Leicester's successful Anglo-Welsh campaign, today it was his positioning and timing in attack that really impressed. The delay of his pass in Leicester's opening try confounded Owen Farrell and sent Alesana Tuilagi charging through a huge gap, with the Samoan almost bemused by the lack of bodies to smash through.
Ford was the original source of Leicester's second try as well. His shimmy and break in midfield took the Tigers into Saracens 22 and eventually Craig Newby slipped an exquisite pass out to Steve Mafi who touched down in the corner.
It was of course, like any Leicester performance, a pack effort - including the assurance of Geordan Murphy at the back, the powerful running throughout the backline and the relentless appetite up front - as they gained revenge for Saracens' victory in last season's final.
The reigning champions were typically committed and efficient in their approach. But unlike their opponents they lacked a real cutting edge. David Strettle lost control of the ball over the line - but that apart they rare threatened the Leicester line, instead relying on the kicking of Farrell for points.
Had they possessed the more exciting strike runners out wide to feed off the terrific distribution of Charlie Hodgson, the result could have been closer, or overturned. But then again Leicester are fond of their May days in at Twickenham.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
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