Leicester retain title in Twickenham epic

Leicester Tigers 33 Saracens 27

Leicester were crowned Guinness Premiership champions for the third time in four seasons after denying Saracens title glory following an epic Twickenham tussle.

The Tigers retained their league crown by keeping composure during a thrilling encounter when the lead changed hands seven times.

Centre Matt Smith, scrum-half Ben Youngs and substitute Danny Hipkiss scored tries for Leicester, with England international Hipkiss striking three minutes from time.

But it was fly-half Toby Flood's goalkicking that made the difference as he booted 18 points from four penalties and three conversions, while number eight Jordan Crane delivered a monumental man-of-the-match display.

Saracens captain Ernst Joubert claimed a touchdown in each half, and there were 17 points for fly-half Glen Jackson on his final appearance before retirement, but the Hertfordshire club have still not won a major trophy since 1998.

And they will kick themselves for missing several tackles on Hipkiss during a dramatic finale after Tigers wing Scott Hamilton snaffled possession from the restart after a Jackson penalty had edged Saracens 27-26 in front.

One wondered what their absent rugby director Brendan Venter - at home in St Albans baby-sitting his son Joshua - would have made of it all.

But Venter, serving a 10-week touchline suspension and one-match Twickenham ban following his controversial behaviour at Leicester three weeks ago, could not have prevented Leicester's second-half power play.

Their forwards took control at a key stage of the contest, rewarding Leicester's sixth successive Premiership final appearance with yet more silverware, despite Saracens taking them to the wire.

Saracens restored club captain Steve Borthwick to their line-up for the first time since March following his recovery from a knee injury, but his long-term deputy Joubert remained as skipper.

Leicester were unchanged from the team that accounted for semi-final opponents Bath, a side highlighted by England flanker Lewis Moody making his final appearance after 14 seasons at Tigers before joining Bath next season.

Rival kickers Jackson and Flood exchanged early penalties before a second Jackson strike edged Saracens ahead as Tigers found themselves on the back foot.

But when they stirred, Leicester stung Saracens through a superbly-worked try that had its origins through wing Alesana Tuilagi's trademark blockbusting midfield run.

His power rocked the Saracens defence, and quickly recycled possession ended with Smith weaving his way over behind the posts for a try that Flood converted.

Saracens needed a rapid response, and the first-time Premiership finalists did not disappoint, conjuring a classic score for Joubert after Jackson skipped through Leicester's midfield defence.

Leicester though, ended a breathless opening quarter by regaining the lead with a second Flood penalty, only for Jackson to cancel that kick out and put Saracens 14-13 in front.

The lead in a pulsating final had already changed hands four times, yet Leicester had no intention of playing second fiddle as Youngs restored their lead through a sniping break and try after excellent approach work.

Flood's conversion took the Tigers six points clear, which ended the scoring of a memorable opening period when both sides looked to attack at every opportunity.

Saracens had struggled in the lineouts - much of it due to Borthwick's chronic lack of games during the past two months - and he was replaced just five minutes into the second period.

Mouritz Botha took his place, but Botha's arrival coincided with Leicester looking to tighten their control up-front, and their dominant scrum resulted in a penalty that Flood accepted.

Just when things began to look bleak for Saracens though, they responded in breathtaking fashion with a try that would have graced any final.

Centre Adam Powell made initial in-roads, and after flanker Andy Saull took the move on at pace, Joubert galloped over for his second touchdown.

Jackson's conversion narrowed the gap to just two points with almost 30 minutes remaining, but Flood landed another penalty that pushed Leicester 26-21 ahead.

The second-half proved a far more attritional affair until the remarkable closing stages.

Jackson's double penalty strike gave Saracens a scent of glory, but then Hipkiss seized his moment in the spotlight, Flood converted and Leicester - once again - were crowned champions of England.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen