Gutsy Saracens secure Premiership glory
May 28, 2011
Gutsy Saracens secure Premiership glory
Saracens completed their march to the summit of English rugby with a dramatic 22-18 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Twelve months on from their heartbreaking defeat in last year's showpiece, Mark McCall's side produced a performance replete with heart, skill and perserverance to see off the champions, whose recent free-flowing style was masked on this occasion by a conservative gameplan and breathless defence from their opponents.
Saracens winger James Short scored the only try of the game in the first-half, with 19-year-old Owen Farrell kicking 17 points in a display that underlined his admirable nerve and fighting spirit. England fly-half Toby Flood slotted a record-equalling 18 points in response but his side's efforts with ball in hand were continually blunted by Sarries, who put in a mesmerising shift in defence late on, seeing off 31 phases of Leicester attack to win their first ever English title.
Farrell opened the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty, one given extra significance by the sin-binning of Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs. Sarries had found a midfield gap thanks to some dancing feet from Brad Barritt, with scrum-half Neil De Kock - in the side thanks to a coin-toss - arriving at full tilt to take his side within inches of the opening try only for Youngs to meddle with the ball on the floor.
A superb take by Matt Smith put the Tigers on the front-foot immediately after and the centre's good work was rewarded by Flood, who slotted the resulting penalty to level the scores after Schalk Brits had been pinged for not releasing. Youngs returned with the game still all square, his side having survived a hairy moment when stand-in scrum-half Anthony Allen fired a pass over the head of Flood in-goal.
Flood grabbed a three-point lead for Leicester with his second penalty on 17 minutes but it was short-lived as George Chuter had 30 seconds to forget. The Tigers hooker was flattened by a charging Brits and then lunged for De Kock at a ruck, conceding three points to the boot of Farrell just before the 20-minute mark.
Saracens' James Short dives in to score the only try at Twickenham © Getty Images
Goode missed with an ugly drop-goal as Sarries turned the screw, but thankfully for the challengers, Brits and Short were far more clinical in their execution to conjure the opening try. The ebullient hooker set off on another surge just outside the Leicester 22, haring across the face of Marcos Ayerza before unleashing Short - one of 10 players to re-sign with the club this week - for the corner.
The TMO confirmed a superb finish from the youngster and Farrell added the extras from the touchline, making it 13-6 after half an hour. Leicester continued to struggle with Saracens' pace and verve, with another penalty, this time for offside, coughed up after De Kock and David Strettle had combined to set hearts racing among the Tigers defence.
Farrell kicked his third penalty but Leicester went back-to-basics and secured a much-needed three points after Martin Castrogiovanni had worked over Matt Stevens at the scrum, making it 16-9 at the break.
Three minutes into the second-half Saracens were back out to 10 points in front, with their scrum on top in the first set-piece. Farrell's nerveless kick was reward for a stronger effort by Stevens but Leicester responded with a 50th minute penalty by Flood, which had been won by some aggressive counter-rucking.
The Leicester playmaker missed the first shot of the final moments later following changes in the front-row, where Rhys Gill suffered at the hands of Castrogiovanni, and fluffed his lines again with 25 minutes remaining as both sides attempted to turn up the heat with a raucous five minutes of ambitious rugby littered with its fair share of mistakes.
Leicester struggled to find any fluency in the face of Saracens' aggressive defence but caught a break when Hugh Vyvyan - who became the Premiership's most-capped player by coming off the bench - could not resist diving through a ruck for the ball. This time Flood found the target and narrowed the gap to four points as the clock ticked towards 70 minutes.
Farrell and Flood traded penalties as the decibel level inside Twickenham rose ever higher, with a knock-on by Leicester replacement Billy Twelvetrees puncturing the mood after Alesana Tuilagi had been hauled in by the peerless Brits - the giant Samoan winger having briefly threatened a carbon copy of his semi-final try against Northampton.
Leicester's scrum had one more tale to spin however and after Flood had kicked a penalty to the corner, the Tigers set about their task. Wave after wave of pick and drive forced Saracens to put their bodies on the line, but the men in black were more than equal to the task, with a shrill blast of the referee's whistle deciding the game in their favour.
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