Saracens are among the many clubs who have, in the past, cited Leicester as the model they seek to emulate. Yesterday they took a step towards their objective, achieving for the first time a league double over the team who beat them for last season's Premiership title.
They had to bite their fingernails before doing so, but few would argue that they didn't deserve it. Leicester are past masters at eking out victory when not playing well and that is what Saracens did, winning ugly on a cold and spiteful day, the swirling drizzle inducing mistakes on both sides but doing nothing to dampen the competitive rivalry.
As the clock passed 80 minutes, Leicester had the chance to undo all the good work of the Saracens pack and Alex Goode, their full-back who kicked five penalty goals. But Billy Twelvetrees, on the field for little more than 90 seconds, blazed a 24-metre angled penalty high and wide. Added to a missed penalty and conversion by Jeremy Staunton, it left Saracens to celebrate.
Yet Leicester still lead the Aviva Premiership by two points from Saracens, and in the absence of their international players they have taken three wins from four games during the Six Nations' Championship.
"It's not Billy's fault, it's not Jeremy's fault, we didn't play well enough across the field," said Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby. "Saracens rode their luck today. That's life, we have done it for a long time."
It is not, though, luck that has brought Saracens away wins at Northampton, Wasps and Leicester. It is organisation, a competitive set- piece and, dare one say it, tigerish defence. You do not see very often the Leicester front-row conceding three points because of pressure exerted on their tighthead prop, or losing a heel against the head. Both happened here, the first a victory for Matt Stevens over Martin Castrogiovanni, the second when Leicester were in the Saracens 22. Furthermore, Staunton would have been given a chance to extend a five-point lead to eight but for a push by Craig Newby which caused a penalty to be reversed and led to the fourth of Goode's kicks.
"Alex's kicking percentage over the last few weeks has been as good as it gets," said Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby. "But also he's playing great rugby and today was all about playing in the opposition half. We knew this period would make or break our season and we've won all those difficult away games."
Saracens also have quality from the bench, which has often been a tipping point for Leicester. Stevens, the aggressive Neil de Kock, Kelly Brown, the experienced Hugh Vyvyan, who established a record of 233 Premiership appearances – all made significant contributions in the second half.
The game's only try came, though, from Leicester's youngest player, Manu Tuilagi. From an overhead pass by Alesana Tuilagi, his older brother,he pushed off Ernst Joubert – no mean feat – and ran 25 metres to the line, through Goode's tackle. When Staunton kicked his third penalty, Leicester had an eight-point lead.
Steve Borthwick, watched by Martin Johnson, the England manager who chose not to reinstate him in the senior squad last summer, organised the line-out so well that Leicester struggled. The rest was left to Goode, whose fifth penalty (Leicester were penalised while protecting their own ruck ball) came with five minutes left.
Leicester Tigers S Hamilton; H Agulla (D Hipkiss, 78), M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; J Staunton (B Twelvetrees, 78), J Grindal; M Ayerza, G Chuter, J White (M Castrogiovanni, 47), S Mafi, G Skivington, T Croft (B Woods, 65), T Waldrom, C Newby (capt).
Saracens A Goode; D Strettle, R Penney (A Powell, 41), B Barritt, C Wyles; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 50); R Gill (M Stevens, 42), S Brits, C Nieto, S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (H Vyvyan, 50), J Melck, E Joubert, A Saull (K Brown, 50).
Referee S Davey (London).
Try: M Tuilagi
Pens: Staunton 3
Pens: Goode 5Reuse content