Leicester replaced bare-faced assumption with pragmatism against Saracens at Welford Road yesterday, to move up to third in the Premiership. Instead of relying on a group of players who appeared as if they were uninformed invitees at an inauguration meeting of an obscure Masonic Lodge - as they did when losing to Bristol last week - Pat Howard put together a team which looked as if familiarity was second only to brotherly love.
Both attributes were put to the test in an attritional second half when the Tigers were down to 13 men with Ben Kay and Graham Rowntree sent to the sin-bin within four minutes of each other. While they were serving their time, Saracens camped on the home line with an outstanding chance of making something of a game, which at one stage they looked like losing heavily. Having themselves conceded a penalty try at the end of the first quarter, the Saracens head coach, Steve Diamond, was disappointed not to have been awarded one when they were driving against the six-man Leicester pack. "The referee blew four times for penalties but gave us nothing," said Diamond. "We got hammered first time. All we ask is some consistency from referees."
Diamond had a point, though the point that mattered was the losing bonus point Saracens earned when Tevita Vaikona stole away for a late try which, with Glen Jackson's conversion, brought them to within seven points of the Tigers. "Having been at fault when he let Tom Varndell slip by him for his try, he picked himself up and scored a super try himself," concluded Diamond.
It should never have been that close for Leicester. They were well in control once the penalty try was awarded, followed by a second try, this time for Darren Morris, after 26 minutes, to go 21-8 ahead. More than once as Saracens clung on tenaciously, Leicester gave the impression they might let it slip.
Though they are no longer able to call upon Martin Johnson and Neil Back to dig them out of a hole, the Tigers were still able to summon sufficient reserves of traditional Leicester grit and determination to preserve an unbeaten home record in the Premiership which has survived for almost two years. For that they had to thank Martin Corry, George Chuter, Ben Kay and Shane Jennings, none of whom took a backward step. They could also call upon the right boot of Andy Goode who contributed five penalties - one a monster from 60 metres - and two conversions.
Saracens augmented Ben Johnston's early try with two penalties and a dropped goal from Glen Jackson to leave it at 21-14 at the break. Goode struck twice more before Jackson added two further penalties, which heralded the introduction of Varndell, who had been dropped after the guileless defeat at Bristol. With his second touch he weaved his way past the hapless Vaikona for a stunning try. With a minute of time remaining, the former Bradford Bulls winger struck back to cement that invaluable bonus point.
Leicester: Tries Penalty try, Morris, Varndell; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 5. Saracens: Tries Johnston, Vaikona; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 4; Drop goal Jackson.
Leicester: S Vesty; L Lloyd, O Smith (T Varndell, 61), D Hipkiss, G Murphy; A Goode, A Healey; G Rowntree (D Morris, 25-34), G Chuter, J White, L Deacon (L Cullen, 66), B Kay, W Johnson (D Morris, 53-61; L Abraham, 61), S Jennings, M Corry (capt).
Saracens: D Scarbrough; B Johnston, K Sorrell, A Powell (N Little, 74), T Vaikona; G Jackson, A Dickens (M Rauluni, 68); K Yates (B Broster, 68), S Byrne (M Cairns, 55), B Broster (H Mitchell, 28), T Ryder (T Randell, 70), K Chesney, H Vyvyan (capt; D Seymour, 44), B T Russell, B Skirving.
Referee: R Maybank (Kent).Reuse content