Saracens battle past Leicester
October 3, 2010
Saracens hooker Schalk Brits delivered another eye-catching display
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Saracens climbed to third place in the Aviva Premiership table with a hard-fought 26-20 victory over Leicester Tigers in their clash at Vicarage Road.
Tries from hooker Schalk Brits and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and 16 points from the boot of fly-half Derick Hougaard saw Saracens exact some revenge for their defeat at the hands of the Tigers in last season's finale at Twickenham and silence those critics who had questioned the timing of the side's team-bonding trip to Oktoberfest in Munich earlier this week. However, having dominated the visitors for much of the contest they failed to put the game away and had to withstand a late rally from the defending champions.
The Tigers pack laid the foundation for a penalty try in the first period and the kicking exploits of No.10 Billy Twelvetrees as well as a second half try from fullback Lucas Amorosino offered hope of a dramatic turnaround but yellow cards for winger Horacio Agulla and lock Ed Slater - who followed Saracens' Deon Carstens to the sin-bin - proved pivotal in a fiercely-contested and entertaining clash.
While the home team fielded many of their big guns, including former England captain Steve Borthwick, Leicester were forced to change their shape to cope with a combination of injuries, not least to fly-halves Toby Flood and Jeremy Staunton, and enforced resting of Elite Player Squad members Ben Youngs and George Chuter.
The whistle of French referee Romain Poite dominated the early exchanges with Leicester laying down an impressive marker at an early scrum. But Sarries weathered that early storm and put together a crowd-pleasing string of phases that resulted in No.8 Ernst Joubert putting winger David Strettle in for what looked like a score in the corner but his pass was ruled as forward. Hougaard attempted to gain some reward for his side's endeavours a few moments later but he was wide of the mark with a long range drop goal attempt.
Hougaard also failed with a penalty from just inside his own half but the hosts were undeterred and continued to pepper the Leicester defence and finally breached the Tigers' defence with fullback Chris Wyles slipping the tackle of Matt Smith down the short side before putting Brits in for the opening try of the game. And it was third time lucky for Hougaard who opened his account with the conversion. The industrious Brits continued to be a thorn in the Tigers' side and drew a penalty soon after that Hougaard landed to extend his side's lead.
Leicester were not short of possession nor strangers to the Saracens 22 but were thwarted time and time again by a resolute defence. But Twelvetrees offered a spark of hope by cutting a great line into the 22 and the threat drew a penalty against the home side with the Tigers opting for the scrum in the hope of hammering home their advantage at the set-piece. Successive penalties went the way of the Tigers with Saracens' Deon Carstens singled out for criticism but the South African failed to heed the warning and was shown a yellow card as the penalty count continued to rise. And the inevitable penalty try finally came when the Saracens pack splintered at the next scrum with Twelvetrees adding the extras.
Saracens' response was swift with Brits surging into the Leicester 22 and the hooker cropped up again a few phases later to work a neat one-two with Wigglesworth that saw the scrum-half dart over down the shortside. Hougaard added the conversion to cement his side's lead before the two sides headed to the tunnel.
Leicester chipped away at that lead in the opening moments of the second half with Twelvetrees landing a penalty but the tit-for-tat exchange continued with Hougaard slotting an equally impressive effort soon after.
Carstens then returned to the fray with replacement Carlos Nieto joining him in a new-look front row that brought immediate improvement to the Saracens scrum. And that new found stability laid the platform for Saracens' latest foray into the Leicester 22 that drew another penalty - with Twelvetrees guilty of holding on - and allowed Hougaard to add to his tally.
The in-form South African kept the scoreboard ticking over with a neatly-struck drop goal to stretch his side's advantage to 16 points but Sarries were hungry for more. Twelvetrees failed to deal with a chip into the 22 and Wyles pounced before finding support in Wigglesworth and lock Hugh Vyvyan but their quest for a try was stopped illegally by Tigers winger Horacio Agulla who became the latest player to be sent to the sin-bin as a result. Saracens opted for the lineout and their fired-up forwards took them close to the line but the Leicester defence stood firm.
The otherwise faultless flanker Jacques Burger was then guilty of not releasing Leicester's Dan Hipkiss having tackled the centre and Twelvetrees punished him by kicking his second penalty that Hougaard looked to cancel out with an audacious drop goal attempt but his effort fell wide.
The task facing Leicester then got even harder with lock Ed Slater yellow carded for a deliberate knock on - temporarily reducing the Tigers to 13 men - and Saracens went for the kill from the resulting lineout only for Brits to be bundled into touch in the corner by prop Martin Castrogiovanni who was knocked out in the process.
Saracen failed to make their numbers pay and were hit on the counter by the Tigers. Agulla drew the defence in midfield before finding his compatriot Lucas Amorosino who chipped ahead before collecting and sliding over for the try although there was a hint of a forward pass in the build-up. Twelvetrees then kicked the conversion that brought Leicester back into losing bonus point range.
Hougaard failed to settle the home side's nerves by pulling a late penalty wide of the posts with six minutes to go but an early tackle from Leicester scrum-half James Grindall on Wigglesworth gave his No.10 another chance to rob the Tigers of a bonus point - but again he failed in the last act of one of the game's of the season so far.
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