Ford comes of age as Tigers tame Saracens - Club Rugby - Rugby Union - The Independent

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

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week