Saracens vs Leicester Tigers match report: Billy Vunipola puts Tigers on the run

Saracens 22 Leicester Tigers 6: England Number 8 stars as Saracens strengthen home play-off hopes

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The Independent Online

Saracens were selling T-shirts to commemorate the recent kicking heroics of Marcelo Bosch in Europe, and their next move must surely be to work out whatever is fuelling the performances of Billy Vunipola and bottle it. The England No 8 scored a dynamic try just before half-time, and his insistent driving helped bring a shuddering halt to Leicester’s run of five Premiership wins.

The loss did not scupper Leicester’s hopes of a play-off spot – “everything is in our own hands, there’s plenty of fight in us, we just need to be smarter,” said their director of rugby Richard Cockerill – but the former champions looked several cogs short of the menacing machine that reached nine consecutive Premiership final appearances up to 2013.

Meanwhile, Saracens regained second place from Bath with only the minor regret of missing a bonus point by being unable to add to their three tries by the 49th minute. “Not much happened in attack after that,” said Cockerill’s Saracens counterpart Mark McCall. “But the players’ character, fight and energy to keep making tackles was pretty special.”

Saracens have won every available trophy so far this season (Anglo-Welsh Cup, A league, Academy U-18s, women’s league and cup), and this was the first team’s seventh straight win in all competitions. They easily snuffed out Leicester’s attack, including one bizarre incident involving Niki Goneva near the end, and drew sin-bin offences from Tom Youngs and Goneva; the latter’s forearm collision with Kelly Brown may attract further punishment. It all backed up McCall’s assertion that his team are peaking at the optimal time as they continue a daunting run of fixtures, with a European Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne next Saturday and a trip to Northampton in the Premiership in Milton Keynes seven days later.

It helped Sarries, too, that their England centre Brad Barritt came through his first match in five weeks intact, whereas Leicester lost their valuable Argentina prop Marcos Ayerza to a hamstring injury.

Freddie Burns has been working on his goal-kicking with the former England and Northampton fly-half Paul Grayson, and the Leicester No 10 confidently struck penalty-goals in the fourth and seventh minutes. But this was with the benefit of a following wind, whereas Bosch – who had famously booted the winning penalty against Racing Métro last Sunday – was off target from about 30 metres. After another Saracens miss when Alex Goode hit a post, Youngs was shown a yellow card for tackling Chris Ashton off the ball and the home side chose to scrum near the Leicester goal-line. Three penalties and three reset scrums made a penalty try likely, but Vunipola obviated any need for that with a try-scoring burst from the base.

Further tries by Bosch and Chris Wyles then pulled Saracens clear. Hodgson converted the first of them for 19-6 and the only other score was the fly-half’s penalty after 60 minutes. Leicester had plenty of ball and decent position as time wore on but their lack of precision was epitomised in unfortunate fashion when Goneva was tackled near the right-hand corner by Dave Strettle, and unsuccessfully tossed the ball infield. With the corner flag lying nearby, instead of standing in its rightful place, the Fijian may have thought he was five metres further back than he was, and so forfeited a likely try by simply not grounding the ball.

Line-ups:

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, M Bosch (D Taylor, 59, D Strettle, 65), B Barritt (S Spurling, 71), C Wyles; C Hodgson, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 53); M Vunipola (R Barrington, 65), J George, P du Plessis (J Johnston, 53), G Kruis, A Hargreaves (captain), J Wray (E Joubert, 53), K Brown, B Vunipola.

Leicester Tigers: M Tait; N Morris (A Thompstone, 56), M Smith, S Bai, N Goneva (L Ghiraldini, 37); F Burns, B Youngs (captain, S Harrison, 61); M Ayerza (M Rizzo, 43, Cole, 69), T Youngs (Ghiraldini, 65), D Cole (L Mulipola, 53), S de Chaves (G Kitchener, 50), G Parling, J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane (L Pearce, 58).

Referee: M Carley (Kent).

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