The remarkable renaissance of Leeds gathered more pace at Headingley, where the home side secured their third successive Guinness Premiership victory at the expense of Saracens to climb off the foot of the table for the first time this season.
Sale Sharks' home defeat, coupled with this hard-fought win for Leeds, provided the club with their finest moment of what has been an otherwise long and often deflating campaign. At the final whistle the Leeds coaching staff celebrated the triumph as if they had won the title itself. The result owed much to the character of substitute Tom Ford and the sheer grit and determination of his forwards.
Leeds' cause had appeared hampered when fly-half Ceiron Thomas was forced off inside the opening 24 minutes following a heavy collision with Kameli Ratuvou. The hosts seemed to be masters of their own downfall, with Thomas's replacement Ford missing two easy penalties in quick succession and Henry Fa'afili spilling a simple pass with the Saracens defence outnumbered.
Ford could have done worse than learn from the example of his opposite number Derick Hougaard. Saracens were clinical whenever they found themselves in striking range of the Leeds line and Hougaard was quick to profit, with his eighth- minute penalty and two crisply struck drop-goals fashioning a comfortable 9-0 lead for the visitors.
But Saracens found themselves drawn into a forward battle which they went on to lose convincingly. Brendan Venter's side had no answer to the power of Leeds at the set-piece and the hosts used this as a platform to claw their way back into the game. Ford finally found his range and knocked over a penalty on the cusp of half-time then added a second four minutes after the break to reduce the arrears to 9-6. Hougaard and Ford exchanged further penalties before the breakthrough Leeds had been striving for came with 20 minutes remaining. Saru Rebini's initial break allowed Scott Mathie's short pass to send Lee Blackett crashing over for the game's first and only try, which Ford converted before adding a drop goal.
Leeds are now up to 10th in the table following their first hat-trick of league wins since 2004-05, while Saracens remain third despite losing five of their last six games. Leeds director of rugby Andy Key said: "We always knew this side had the ability to win and now we're proving it. We've showed we have the mental strength and belief. Joe Ford showed he could play under pressure and this is hopefully the start of a long and successful journey for the team."
Leeds: Try Blackett; Conversion Ford; Penalties Ford 3. Drop-goal Ford. Saracens: Pens Hougaard 2; Drop-goal Hougaard 2.
Leeds: Hinton; Fa'afili, Rabeni, Barrow (Hepworth, 58), Blackett; Thomas (Ford, 24), Mathie; MacDonald, Titterrell, Gomez (Swainston, 55), Lund, Wentzel (capt), Myall (Clark, 54), Fourie, Oakley (To'Oala, 55).
Saracens: Goode; Penney (Tagicakibau, 55), Ratuvou (Powell, 78), Barritt, Wyles; Hougaard, De Kock (Marshall, 63); Aguero (Gill, 53), Brits (Reynecke, 78), Skuse (Mercey, 77), Smith, Ryder (Botha, 53), Van Heerden (capt), Burger, Melck (Joubert, 53).
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire).Reuse content