Skinner pays flying visit and lands crucial prize

Saracens 19 Leicester 19

Dean Richards, speaking with the limitless authority of hindsight, felt his decision to send young Will Skinner into the fray was something of a coaching masterstroke. "There is no doubt that Will has the pace to make an impact on any game," the celebrated Lion of old pronounced sagely. Skinner took rather less than a minute to register his presence yesterday - considering there was little more than 60 seconds left on the clock when he appeared, this was just as well - and if the 19-year-old continues to make his director of rugby look this good, he will have an influential friend for life.

Saracens had just performed the first decisive act of a highly competitive, occasionally spiteful game by running in a length-of-the-field try that was startling in its adventure and stunning in its execution. From a deeply unpromising position in his own 22, Ben Johnston almost disappeared into his own nether regions before flinging out a risky pass to Richard Haughton, the quickest player on the field by several miles. Haughton turned on the after-burner, and then found a pair of puffing props, Andy Kershaw and Emiliano Bergamaschi, in support. Ryan Peacey was also up with the action, and it was he who freed Morgan Williams on a joyous gallop to the line.

Seven points to the bad with stoppage time kicking in, Richards reeled in his captain, Josh Kronfeld, and threw Skinner into the mix. The effect was immediate. Tim Stimpson regathered his own kick ahead from the restart, Ollie Smith worked his way behind the defensive line and, with Skinner materialising instantly on the centre's shoulder, Haughton was caught betwixt and between. There was contact between the two, but nowhere near enough to prevent the teenager squaring the argument.

While Saracens are never less than whole-hearted in their approach to the rufty-tufty side of Premiership rugby, they remain vulnerable at forward. Simon Raiwalui and Taine Randell, two world-class summer recruits, have given them shape and purpose; Randell's instant marmalisation of Kronfeld, his old Otago mucker, direct from the kick-off demonstrated a degree of hostile intent, and the former All Black captain's tackle on George Chuter early in the second half very nearly put the hooker into ward nine of the hospital next door. But their set-piece work is scratchy in the extreme, and until they get themselves sorted out at the sharp end, precious Premiership points will continue to disappear down the nearest drain.

Leicester, on the other hand, can travel without the likes of Johnson, White, Corry, Moody and Back and still boast more muscle than the average candidate for the governership of California. They have a terrific young second-row prospect in Tom Ryder, just 18 and fresh out of Uppingham School. The brothers Deacon, Brett and Louis, are quite something - no mother on earth would fancy feeding those two at short notice - and even way out west on the left wing, the 21-year-old John Holtby stands 6ft 3in in his socks. When these kids grow up, watch out world.

There is so much history between these two sides that they could not play a game of backgammon without trying to dice each other to death. If Will Johnson, big Martin's kid brother, set the ball rolling with a nice left-hander around the side of a ruck, Kris Chesney responded whenever the opportunity arose. With Raiwalui also in full warpaint, Roy Maybank did well to restrict himself to a single yellow card, wielded in the direction of Joe Ross for a brainlessly public shove on the prone Ryder, who spent the following 10 minutes grinning and waving at his assailant as he kicked his heels on the touchline.

Ross will be thinking about Ryder when the sides next meet in mid-April, but unfortunately for him, Ryder will have mutated into Martin Johnson by then. Perhaps the Saracen will think twice before having a go.

Saracens: Try Williams; Conversion Goode; Penalties Goode 4. Leicester: Try Skinner; Conversion Stimpson; Penalties Stimpson 4.

Saracens: T Castaignède; R Haughton, B Johnston, P Bailey (K Sorrell, 65), N McAvoy; A Goode, M Williams; S Sparks (A Kershaw, 62), J Ross (A Croall, 73), E Bergamaschi, S Raiwalui (capt), K Chesney, A Roques, R Peacey, T Randell.

Leicester: T Stimpson; O Smith, L Lloyd (T Tierney, 66), D Gibson, J Holtby; S Vesty (R Pez, 70), H Ellis; G Rowntree (D Morris, 25), G Chuter, R Nebbett, T Ryder (J Hamilton, 70), L Deacon, B Deacon (H Tuilagi, 58), J Kronfeld (capt, W Skinner, 80), W Johnson.

Referee: R Maybank (Kent).

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