Hipkiss gives Tigers bite to see off brave Saracens

Leicester Tigers 33 Saracens 27: Centre scores late try to win tremendous final after Jackson's kick appears to give challengers the spoils
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The Independent Online

This was a dramatic and entertaining final in which both sets of players did their best to turn the absence of the suspended Saracens director of rugby, Brendan Venter, into a sideshow. Leicester, the champions, had the superior forward power and sealed their ninth league title with a scene-stealing try by Dan Hipkiss three minutes from the end. Sarries were proud and brash and stayed true to their attacking style of the second half of the season but they fell just short of the target of a long awaited second trophy of the open era. That particular agony must go on.

The beaten men took it well, which was a relief after the rancour of the last few weeks had appeared to be building after Saracens' run of two wins at Northampton and one in the final league fixture at Leicester which cost Venter his ban for what he saw as harmless banter with Tigers supporters. But Leicester, who were a few players short in that previous meeting, and knew they had much more to give.

"Deep down I thought we deserved to win but I suppose Leicester did too," said Glen Jackson, the Saracens fly-half who kicked 17 points in his final match before retirement. His counterpart, Toby Flood, went one point better and the Tigers also scored three tries to two. "If you get this far and lose it is horrible and I feel for the other team," said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester head coach, who has had his share of disciplinary trouble.

Leicester were in a sixth straight Premiership final, having lost three of them. Their great back-rower, Lewis Moody, was bidding farewell before a move to Bath after 14 years of first-team service. At home in St Albans, watching on television, Venter must have cheered the first scrum, which Leicester took down, allowing Jackson to kick his side into a 3-0 lead. That was banished to the memory banks by Leicester, sharpish. They dominated the set piece thereafter.

Both clubs have dabbled this season in the mantra of "no one likes us, we don't care". Not after this match. The hectic pace and adventurous style had everyone in a third successive Twickenham sell-out crowd beaming. The lead changed hands five times before the interval, by which point Leicester led 20-14. There were two penalties by Flood and three from Jackson but the joy was in the tries.

After 12 minutes a clearing kick from a scrum by Neil de Kock prompted Scott Hamilton to take a quick line-out on the right for Leicester near halfway. Geordan Murphy invited his Samoan mate Alex Tuilagi to crash it up and put Hugh Vyvyan on the seat of his shorts; Flood took over and combined, right to left, with Murphy, Anthony Allen and Hamilton to send Matt Smith over. Flood converted.

Tit for tat, Saracens responded with a belter. Jackson ran a runaround and fed Jacques Burger before Ernst Joubert, captain for the day, bundled through Murphy's tackle.

Leicester's pick and go charges were effective again in their second try after 27 minutes as Tuilagi, Jordan Crane, Allen and Martin Castrogiovanni drove hard on a perpendicular line to the posts, which was where Youngs ended up as he jinked, with the help of an unintentional block by the referee, Dave Pearson, past Steve Borthwick.

You wondered whether the recall of Borthwick after two months' nursing tendonitis in his left knee had worked negatively for Sarries. The famously studious lock stalked off barely five minutes into the second half. Saracens were in horrendous trouble at the scrum and penalties for collapsing were kicked by Flood in the 48th and 58th minutes, though in between Joubert at full gallop scored his and Saracens' second try. Beautiful running angles and passing out of contact were the building blocks, with Adam Powell and Andy Saull laying the mortar and Jackson topping over with a conversion.

Flood pushed a penalty wide after Saracens' front row nose-dived yet again and Venter's quartet of assistant coaches searched for an answer, sending on Justin Melck for Saull and Justin Marshall for De Kock. A long-distance kick by Jackson dropped short after 66 minutes and another chance went west when Marshall's pass was spilled by Rhys Gill.

Moody took his leave with a dozen minutes left and Leicester fell offside, allowing Jackson to trim the deficit to 26-24. Five minutes from time, Louis Deacon dived in the side of a ruck near the 22 and Jackson made it 27-26 to Saracens.

Seconds later Hamilton leapt brilliantly to catch Flood's restart and Hipkiss, on as a replacement at centre, charged on. Though he was high-tackled by Jackson he kept his feet and composure to dot down near the posts, Flood converting to guarantee another Leicester coronation.

Leicester Tigers G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, M Smith (D Hipkiss, 68), A Allen, A Tuilagi (J Staunton, 73); T Flood, B Youngs; M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 51), G Chuter, M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 50), L Deacon, G Parling, T Croft, J Crane, L Moody (C Newby, 68).

Saracens A Goode; M Tagicakibau (K Ratuvou, 60), A Powell, B Barritt, C Wyles; G Jackson, N de Kock (J Marshall, 65); M Aguero (R Gill, 50), S Brits, P du Plessis, S Borthwick (M Botha, 45), H Vyvyan, J Burger, E Joubert (capt), A Saull (J Melck, 65).

Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).