Tigers clinch thrilling triumph
May 29, 2010
Leicester lift the Guinness Premiership silverware having successfully defended their crown against Saracens at Twickenham
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Leicester retained the Guinness Premiership crown with a pulsating 33-27 victory over Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday.
A try from replacement centre Dan Hipkiss three minutes from the end of a thrilling encounter propelled the Tigers to their seventh Premiership success and an unprecedented ninth English League title. Tries from centre Matt Smith and scrum-half Ben Youngs put them in control in a breathless first half but it was the boot of fly-half Toby Flood that guided them home with 18 points courtesy of four conversions and three penalties.
Two tries from captain Ernst Joubert and the boot of No.10 Glen Jackson kept Sarries in touch and a penalty five minutes from time put them within reach of a famous victory. But Leicester showed their class to conjure a late turnaround with a dramatic lineout steal from lock Geoff Parling finally snuffing out Saracens' brave challenge.
Saracens battled valiantly despite being stripped of the services of director of rugby Brendan Venter who is serving a touchline ban, but they had little answer to Leicester's powerful second half display that decided the contest. The Tigers' forwards took control after the break and Flood took full advantage as Richard Cockerill's side underlined their status as English rugby's dominant force.
Saracens restored club captain Steve Borthwick to their line-up for the first time since March following his recovery from a knee injury, but his long-term deputy Joubert remained as skipper. Leicester were unchanged from the team that accounted for semi-final opponents Bath, a side highlighted by England flanker Lewis Moody making his final appearance after 14 seasons at Tigers before joining Bath next season.
Saracens opened the scores with a Jackson penalty after Leicester loose-head Marcus Ayerza was penalised at an early scrum but the Tigers were soon back on level terms with Flood pouncing on some indiscipline from Jacques Burger at the breakdown.
Saracens continued to pepper the Leicester defence with the boot of scrum-half Neil de Kock probing for gaps and that pressure drew the next penalty from the Tigers - this time for offside - that Jackson slotted with ease to give his side the lead once more.
Back came Leicester with Youngs pouncing on a loose ball before sparking a lively break that was let down by some poor handling. Prop Martin Castrogiovanni and No.8 Jordan Crane then combined well down the shortside to create an opening that was snuffed out by a big tackle from Sarries lock Hugh Vyvyan on Tigers flanker Tom Croft. But Leicester were not to be denied with a powerful run from winger Alesana Tuilagi laying the platform for a slick move that put Smith away out wide and the centre showed great pace to notch the first try of the game.
Saracens responded with a well-worked try of their own with Jackson stretching the Tigers' defence before feeding Burger, who found his captain Joubert. The No.8 had the strength to hold off the tackle of Leicester fullback Geordan Murphy and touch down in the corner. Jackson could not add the difficult conversion but they had the lead - but not for long.
The scoreboard continued to tick over with Flood adding his second penalty just a minute or so later when Sarries were again penalised for not rolling away at the breakdown. The tit-for-tat exchange continued with Leicester the next to feel the wrath of referee Dave Pearson and as they pondered their growing penalty count, Jackson stroked over his third penalty.
Some excellent close handling from Leicester then had Saracens scrambling in defence with Crane, centre Anthony Allen and Castrogiovanni all involved before a neat step from Youngs took carried him into space and over for the try under the posts. Saracens claimed that referee Pearson had obstructed play in the build-up but their protests were dismissed as Flood made no mistake with the simple conversion to give the Tigers a little breathing room.
The impressive pace of the game in the opening period appeared to have taken its toll as the first half drew to a close although the lively-looking Goode did his best to conjure the next score.
Borthwick made way early in the second half for Mouritz Botha as the forwards came to the fore and a big scrum from the Tigers saw Saracens penalised and Castrogiovanni saluted the crowd in celebration as Flood extended his side's lead from the kicking tee.
But as was the pattern of the game, Saracens offered an immediate reply with Joubert grabbing his second try. Centre Adam Powell drew two tacklers in midfield and then found flanker Andy Saull who came inside on a great line before feeding Joubert who had the pace to reach the line ahead of a helpless Leicester defence. Jackson's conversion made it a two-point game but a late challenge from Saracens winger Michael Tagicakibau on Murphy moments later offered Flood the chance to add to his tally. But his effort was short and wide which was perhaps just after replays appeared to suggest Pearson had got it wrong. There was more woe for Saracens at the next scrum and this time there was no mistake from Flood.
The Tigers continued to control proceedings at scrum time but Flood was unable to make Saracens pay for their shortcomings as the game reached the hour mark - pushing his penalty wide of the posts. Jackson was also off-target from long-range a couple of minutes later after Parling strayed off side.
A rare mistake from Murphy under the high ball then gifted Saracens possession in the Tigers' half and an excellent grubber from centre Brad Barritt opened up the defence but first hooker Brits and then replacement Rhys Gill failed to capitalise. But Leicester's eagerness at the breakdown soon handed them another opportunity and Jackson's fourth penalty brought his side to within two points with less than ten minutes left in the game.
Saracens pressed forward in search of the lead and they were rewarded for their efforts when Leicester lock Louis Deacon was penalised for coming in from the side at the breakdown in the shadow of his own posts. Jackson stepped up and slotted the kick to give his side a one point lead with only three minutes left.
But there was more drama to come with a high tackle on replacement Hipkiss at the re-start drawing the latest penalty. The Tigers did not need it as the centre wriggled free when Saracens stopped and ran in for the match-winning try. Flood kicked the conversion to edge the Tigers towards victory but there was still time for one more foray into the Leicester 22 following another penalty. The kick went to the corner but Parling stole the lineout and with it the title.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.