Short ends Saracens' long wait for glory

Leicester Tigers 18 Saracens 22: Wing scores only try and Farrell excels with the boot as Tigers are tamed
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The Independent Online

Pick any number of starting points for Saracens' journey to their first league title – the airport lounge for this season's team-bonding trips to Munich and Miami; the South African investment three years ago that breathed life into a club becoming synonymous with coming up short; the autumn evening in 1995 when Nigel Wray brought out his chequebook to transform a spit-and-sawdust amateur club into one with ambitions in the open era. Yesterday they needed to navigate a nerve-shredding few minutes after the countdown clock hit zero as Leicester sent in wave upon wave of attacks. Almost by that feat alone, the north London club of new money and old values deserved to have their pre-written adaptation of the club song, "Stand up for the Champions", blaring out after the final whistle.

You could pen a decent-length novella, never mind a catchy Right Said Fred tune, about that last onslaught. The champions of the last two years – and nine times in all – hammered through 32 phases of nerve-mangling rucks near the Saracens posts then, when they went wide and won a penalty, another half-dozen or so before Owen Farrell leapt forward to tackle his opposite number, the England fly-half Toby Flood. So there was no repeat of the Tigers' late winning try 12 months ago, when these sides played out a much more open, classic final.

Having beaten Leicester three times this season, and having won more league matches than anyone else, though they finished second to Leicester in the table, Saracens became the first new champions since Sale in 2006 and, before them, Newcastle in 1998. That was the year Sarries won their only previous trophy, the cup.

What a day the 19-year-old Farrell had on his Twickenham debut. He kept having to halt on the lap of honour to stretch his cramping calves but the smile never left him. Though vastly more experienced, Flood was outdone in the battle of the kickers; Farrell converted all six of his shots including the conversion of a try by James Short in the 29th minute. Flood missed twice from around 40 metres, on a shallow angle left of the posts, after 52 and 55 minutes when Leicester trailed 19-12 and needed points. He also missed a kick to touch from a penalty in his half after 58 minutes. When Flood was forcing the pace, getting his arms through the tackle, Sarries knew it was coming and batted the ball from his grasp.

Flood recovered with two penalties either side of one by Farrell but the damage was done. That Farrell effort was taken in a hurry, with Leicester complaining at a delay; the son of Saracens' head coach, Andy, simply thwacked it over.

"To come here to this special place and do it to a team like Leicester is unbelievable," said Farrell. And there will be calls for him to be fast-tracked out of the England Under-20 squad and into World Cup contention.

It was tight stuff throughout, epitomised by the quick yellow card to Flood's club and country half-back pal, Ben Youngs, for a hand in a ruck in the fifth minute, worried as he was by an overlap looming after Neil de Kock's jinking break. De Kock, who supposedly won a toss of a coin with Richard Wigglesworth to be Saracens' starting scrum-half, was on the money from the off. True, he was offside in one of the four offences in the first quarter that brought penalties for Farrell and Flood. But the South African No 9 tested Leicester.

Farrell had been derided by Gloucester's Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu for putting up more bombs than the US dropped on Bin Laden. But such tactics pinned Leicester back. Neither side found it easy to keep the ball. When Alesana Tuilagi – whose suspended brother Manu was missed in midfield – coughed up possession in a left-wing raid, forcing Flood to scramble back, Youngs's box kick to touch led to the try. Alex Goode, Saracens' full-back, took a quick line-out and Schalk Brits, who had just regained his breath from a ribcage-rattler by Martin Castrogiovanni, set off towards the corner. A David Campese style hitch-kick was superfluous; it was Brits' speed and daring that caught Horacio Agulla in two minds. Short took Brits' pass, stepped around Scott Hamilton and finished adroitly. Farrell's conversion had Sarries 13-6 up. By half-time it was 16-9.

Saracens' devotion to scrummaging paid off, neutering a Leicester strength. The all-for-one philosophy of their former rugby director Brendan Venter has been augmented by his successor, Mark McCall, and both celebrated on the pitch with Wray.

"There have been sleepless nights and disasters," the chairman said. "I just think we've got an incredible bunch of people."

Leicester Tigers

Pens: Flood 6

Saracens

Try: Short

Con: Farrell

Pens: Farrell 5

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