If history is written by the victors, Brendan Venter's scathing but heartfelt critique of English refereeing will be swept under the carpet after this second defeat for his side in their two big holiday-time fixtures. In a detailed rant to the press lasting 30 minutes – it kept the Leicester head coach, Richard Cockerill, kicking his heels in the cold – the Saracens director of rugby found fault with the referee, David Rose, for a second-half turnaround in the penalty count, demanded that officials prepare more thoroughly for the teams they are handling and suggested some sort of underhand influence on Rose during the interval.
The only thing which tastes worse than left-over turkey is sour grapes but Venter was insistent that it was not the results but the refereeing which irked him in Saracens' defeat away to London Irish two days after Christmas and this first home defeat of the season in any competition. The South African – who has seen his team's lead in the Premiership cut to a point – said a midweek video review in company with the Rugby Football Union's elite referee development manager, Tony Spreadbury, had shown "25 penalisable offences" by London Irish that had been missed by the official, Dean Richards, at Reading.
"They've no idea what's going on out there," Venter said of the referees. "Every one is asking why rugby is dying. Take the cheating out of the game and it will be much better."
There was much more – including an insistence that Saracens' captain, Steve Borthwick, was wrongly sent to the sin-bin in the 60th minute for impeding a pass by the Tigers' scrum-half, Ben Youngs, in a counter-attack launched by Scott Hamilton from his own posts and continued by Lote Tuqiri. Borthwick had done well to make half an interception as he chased the break, but when the ball was recycled his attempted duck – at 6ft 6in, it was unlikely to work as an act of evasion – cut no ice with Mr Rose.
"It was a penalty because the bloke was in the way," said Cockerill. "Maybe the yellow card was harsh." And there he and Venter's opinions diverged, naturally enough. Cockerill, just back from a touchline ban for verbal abuse of a whistler, said: "Nobody's allowed to talk to the referee at half-time, and I certainly didn't."
Even Venter, who said he and his management rejected the option of being "unbelievably illegal", preferring to be "whiter than white", conceded that the three scrum penalties forced by Dan Cole and friends in the Leicester pack in the final 11 minutes were fair calls. Toby Flood, who had moved to inside-centre after an ankle injury to Anthony Allen, kicked three penalties in the last quarter and finished with six from eight. Saracens led 6-3 at the interval, with two penalties by their fly-half, Glen Jackson, to one from Flood, at which point Venter swapped Jackson, who had missed two short-range efforts, for Derick Hougaard. The latter dispatched two penalties in quick order but they sandwiched the only try, by the Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss. Youngs took a tap-and-go and after the forwards recycled, Hipkiss applied the finish. The promising Youngs made the odd glaring error but his side solved the conundrum faced by many beaten Saracens opponents, which is how to counter-attack the counter-attackers.
The loss of the prop Boris Stankovich to the sin-bin a minute before half-time was almost Leicester's last duff note. Flood's penalty on the hour gave them a 13-12 lead, then Borthwick – part of an unpredictable afternoon at the line-out – went off. Hougaard kicked three points for Saracens – to the neutral, a harshly quick decision against Alex Tuilagi for not releasing – but Flood guided Leicester home.
Saracens A Goode; R Penney, K Ratuvou, B Barritt, C Wyles; G Jackson (D Hougaard, 40), J Marshall (M Rauluni, 61); M Aguero (R Gill, 51), F Ongaro (S Brits, 40), C Nieto, S Borthwick (capt), T Ryder (M Botha, 53), W van Heerden, E Joubert, A Saull (J Melck, 60).
Leicester Tigers S Hamilton; J Murphy (A Tuilagi, 49), D Hipkiss, A Allen (J Staunton, 22), L Tuqiri; T Flood, B Youngs; B Stankovich, G Chuter, D Cole, L Deacon (capt), G Parling, B Deacon (M Ayerza, 42-48), J Crane, B Woods (C Newby, 50).
Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).Reuse content