Ford comes of age as Tigers tame Saracens

Leicester Tigers 24 Saracens 15: Farrell's five penalties not enough for champions to keep their grasp on title

welford road

A text message from his coach, Richard Cockerill, yesterday morning was the signal for George Ford to make ready for the biggest match of his young life. The 19-year-old did not let Leicester down. Displaying the sang froid we have come to associate with his Saracens counterpart Owen Farrell – a long-time friend in England age-group teams – Ford helped create both Leicester's tries and kicked 14 points as Saracens failed in a ferocious fight to hold on to the Premiership title in this play-off semi-final.

Leicester's much more senior fly-half, England's Toby Flood, had been prominent in the 10 straight wins that brought the nine-times champions into the knockout stage. But Flood's dodgy ankle had prompted Ford's dad, the former England defence coach Mike, to flag up the selectorial change in a radio interview on Thursday; the Tigers conceded the truth half an hour before kick-off.

"It was touch and go but Cockers told me to prepare as if I was playing," said Ford, whose immense promise as the world junior player of the year for 2011 has been evident in all his 19 first-team appearances. "In the warm-up in front of 20,000-plus supporters you're buzzing and the chances we got, we took."

He also recommended unhesitatingly the recall of Flood for the final – Leicester's eighth in a row – against Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday week. "Hopefully Floody will be fit to give us our best shot," said Ford. "It's all about the team."

In that regard Leicester also suffered the absence of the openside flanker Julian Salvi, which made the post-tackle area about even, with penalties galore. But Saracens have been labouring for months without the flankers Jacques Burger, Kelly Brown and Andy Saull, and with Justin Melck added to that list their defensively dominated game has been savagely ruptured. For all their run of three wins at Welford Road – the best by any English club since the 1970s – including a 50-pointer during World Cup time last September, this was a different tale.

Cockerill said his team never doubted themselves, despite lying 11th in the league in early season. Six defeats in the first seven matches became three in the last 27.

"If we play to our ability we can beat any side," he said. "Two tries to none, we played all the rugby." A loss away to Exeter in February was followed by a session of backside kicking. They have not been beaten since.

Saracens, once the underachievers, must now digest a different feeling as deposed champions, having finished third in the league. They had a chance to score on 12 minutes, but as Dave Strettle hurtled for the corner a lunge from Alesana Tuilagi made the England wing lose control in his one-handed grounding. A big shove on the resulting scrum put-in drew a penalty out of Saracens, reversing the bragging rights of Leicester's buckling that had allowed Farrell to kick the visitors ahead from halfway.

Ford settled with a simple penalty before Farrell's kick from 30 metres made it 6-3 to Saracens. Leicester won a penalty at a ruck from the restart and kicked to touch. Five metres from the Saracens line the throw in was ropey but Steve Mafi's barge invigorated the move and Ford's miss-pass to Tuilagi opened a gap past Farrell that the Samoan cantered through with a wide grin. Ford converted:10-6 to Leicester after 20 minutes.

Farrell replied with two clumping 40-metre kicks, either side of a miss, but Ford's second penalty had Leicester a point up at the break. Saracens' supporters blew hooters that looked and sounded a lot like vuvuzelas, so their South Africans must have felt at home. One of them, the former head coach now Cape Town-based technical director Brendan Venter, sat in the same grandstand seats where two years ago he had a row that cost him a suspension for the final.

The odds on Leicester being there shot up when Ford made a slashing break through the visitors' backs and set up the second try, in the 49th minute. Tuilagi's brother Manu supported him and Saracens' Mouritz Botha and Alex Goode, in stepping into the path of the human cannonball, smashed heads with each other. With those two down (Botha, cut, would go off), Craig Newby and Geordan Murphy skilfully put Mafi in at the left corner. Ford's penalty on 51 minutes made it 21-12, Farrell replied six minutes later and we were down to base instincts.

Saracens were holding on for dear life at a series of five-metre scrums until Marcos Ayerza at loosehead was surprisingly pinged and Saracens cleared, giving them 12 minutes to retrieve six points. Ford tried a penalty from 55 metres and hit the bar.

The tension increased; the backs exchanged glares and verbals. And with one last, masterly 50-metre kick, for a scrum penalty, Ford finished the job with an exultant pumping of his fists.

Leicester Tigers G Murphy (capt); H Agulla, M Tuilagi, A Allen, A Tuilagi; G Ford, B Youngs; M Ayerza, G Chuter, D Cole (M Castrogiovanni, 59), G Skivington, G Parling, S Mafi, T Waldrom, C Newby.

Saracens A Goode; D Strettle (J Short, 66), O Farrell, B Barritt (A Powell, 78), C Wyles; C Hodgson, N de Kock (R Wigglesworth, 53); R Gill (J Smit, 78), S Brits (J George, 78), M Stevens (C Nieto, 61-74), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis, 48), J Wray (H Vyvyan, 78), E Joubert, W Fraser.

Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).

Leicester Tigers

Tries: A Tuilagi, Mafi

Con: Ford

Pens: Ford 4

Saracens

Pens: Farrell 5

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism