Vesty's late kick allows Tigers to roar into play-offs

Saracens 13 Leicester 16
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The Independent Online

Leicester are making a habit of leaving things late. Last week they needed a last-second try by scrum-half Julien Dupuy to get them in the Heineken Cup semi-finals. Yesterday they waited until the last kick of the game, a penalty goal by the fly-half Sam Vesty to seal victory. In so doing they became only the second visiting team after Gloucester to win at Vicarage Road in the Premiership this season and guaranteed themselves a play-off spot.

That penalty came after a silly Saracens player was spotted with his hand in a ruck, but Vesty made light of the responsibility and kicked Leicester five points clear at the top of the Premiership. "We want to finish top," said Richard Cockerill, who was confirmed as head coach only last week. "We have to get a home tie in the Premiership play-offs. That is key to us." Leicester's final match is against the bottom club Bristol next weekend and a single point would ensure they finish in first.

The Tigers have undergone a remarkable turnaround in fortunes which began during the Six Nations. "We pushed on in the Six Nations when other teams struggled," explained Cockerill.

Potentially Leicester now have four massive games. A Heineken Cup semi away to Cardiff, then the final, and the Premiership semi-final and final, but the pedigree is showing through. The squad is showing signs of serious class; even when they play poorly, and they made a lot of mistakes against Saracens, they can still emerge with a win.

Saracens need to win the scrap for seventh place, or trust to winning the European Challenge Cup in order to guarantee a Heineken Cup berth. In the former case they have to win at Bath to be in with a chance, while the Challenge Cup looks just that, since they have to travel to Northampton for the semi-final, no easy task.

The way Saracens started it looked as if Leicester could kiss goodbye to any hope of staying in the match. The home side pressed upfield from the kick-off and won a line-out five metres out. Although the throw went far too long, the quick-witted Hugh Vyvyan was on hand and put the outside centre Francisco Leonelli into a hole. Glen Jackson converted.

Leicester hit back three minutes later following a fine spell of possession which saw Tigers take the ball through 10 phases and 27 pairs of hands, the last of which, belonging to right-winger Scott Hamilton, had the honour of touching down for a try which Vesty failed to convert.

There was much toing and froing of ball and men for a while before Jackson knocked over another penalty, having just missed with another.

It was almost on half-time that Tigers got one of their own when Vesty popped over his first penalty goal, but he missed with a second attempt just after the interval. It needed some hard work by Martin Castrogiovanni and Dan Hipkiss to get Tigers into position for a vital second try, flanker Craig Newby setting up Ayoola Erinle for the score. That levelled matters and although Vesty missed the conversion he made up for it 27 minutes.

Saracens: Try Leonelli; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 2. Leicester: Tries Hamilton, Erinle; Penalties Vesty 2.

Saracens: A Goode; C Wyles, F Leonelli (A Farrell, 69), B Barritt (N Cato, 78), R Penney; G Jackson (capt), N de Kock (J Marshall, 53); M Aguero, F Ongaro (M Cairns, 65), T Mercey (C Visagie, 52), H Vyvyan, K Chesney (T Ryder, 72), C Jack, D Seymour (D Barrell, 50), J Melck (T Ryder, 63-72).

Leicester: G Murphy (capt); S Hamilton, A Erinle (S Rabeni, 65), D Hipkiss, J Murphy; S Vesty, H Ellis (B Youngs, 52); M Ayerza, G Chuter (B Kayser, 60), M Castrogiovanni (D Cole, 65), T Croft, B Kay, C Newby, B Woods, J Crane.

Referee: D Rose (Warwickshire).