Rugby Union: Stransky settles score after early shenanigans

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The Independent Online
David Llewellyn

Saracens 21

Leicester 22

It isn't over until the Tigers stop growling - and Leicester certainly had the drop on the Allied Dunbar Premiership leaders Saracens. A last- minute drop goal by Joel Stransky (his second attempt in the space of 60 seconds) provided a thrilling finish to what had been a game of scraps, on and off the ball, and earned the South African 17 of his side's points. It was Leicester's first away win in the league since December 1996.

If there was too much careless kicking, there were also patches of stunning play by both sides. The two defences did well and Leicester, fielding a full set of international forwards from the start for the first time, did not find it easy against a combative Saracens pack.

The sides thundered into each other from the kick-off, with or without the ball. The referee, Ed Morrison, spent as much time with the whistle out of his mouth lecturing the various warring factions as he did blowing for infractions.

But it was great entertainment for the 14,291 supporters at Vicarage Road - the largest crowd to watch a club game in England outside Leicester.

Saracens' Paul Wallace and Leicester's Graham Rowntree were shown a yellow card after some skulduggery at a scrum; earlier Danny Grewcock and Tigers' captain Martin Johnson had been carded for shenanigans after a brawl broke out in two different places on the pitch.

While most of the forwards seemed intent on getting involved, the impressive Sarries flanker Alex Bennett got dangerously close to a try. The resulting penalty after the brawl went Leicester's way and a good position was lost.

It took both teams more than half an hour to turn their attention to some serious rugby. By then Saracens, defending a run of 10 matches unbeaten in the League, had edged ahead courtesy of two penalties and a drop goal by Michael Lynagh, to two Joel Stransky goals.

The pace then picked up and there was some marvellous stuff as both sides hammered away at each other. Saracens' Ryan Constable and Brendon Daniel put in chips for each other as they made inroads down the left but Waisale Serevi picked up the final kick ahead, raced across the width of the pitch behind his line before kicking clear to lift the pressure.

Another penalty, Stransky's third success in four attempts, levelled the scores in the first minute of the second half, but Saracens could have taken the lead. Francois Pienaar was galloping to the line when he was stopped in his tracks by a shuddering Darren Garforth tackle and, worse, he lost the ball in contact.

Seven minutes later Stransky ran a stunning angle before slipping the ball to his fellow South African Fritz van Heerden and the lock bullocked his way over for a try. Stransky converted.

Initially Saracens flagged but they eventually caught the Tigers. The ball emerged from a ruck and ended up in the hands of their Australian centre Ryan Constable. He skinned the Tigers' defence for a try converted by Lynagh.

Three minutes later came Saracens second. Bennett, burst clear, found Richard Wallace, and the winger found another gear as he raced to the line.

Lynagh failed with the conversion and it was a crucial miss because Stransky's fourth penalty, and that drop goal, settled things.

Saracens: Tries Constable, R Wallace; Conversion Lynagh; Penalties Lynagh 2; Drop goal Lynagh. Leicester: Try Van Heerden; Conversion Stransky; Penalties Stransky 4; Drop goal Stransky.

Saracens: G Johnson (M Singer, 38-40 and 78); B Daniel, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau (A Olver, 64), G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, A Bennett (B Sturnham, 80), F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt).

Leicester: A Leeds; A Healey, J Overend, S Potter, L Lloyd; J Stransky, W Serevi; G Rowntree (P Freshwater, 73), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), F van Heerden, M Corry (D Addison, 73), N Back, E Miller (L Moody, 54).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).