With Saracens leading 25-9 against an unspeakably dreadful Leicester side, the Tigers burst spectacularly into life with first John Liley and then Rory Underwood scoring tries, both of which Liley converted to bring them within two points of the opposition and the scent of a victory they had never once been remotely close to securing during the match. Then, three minutes into injury time Leicester were awarded a penalty just inside their own half and Liley stepped up for the kick to win the match. He was short, Andy Tunningley kicked for touch and Saracens had overcome the first big hurdle of this new age.
Old habits die hard and when, midway through the second half and 13 points in arrears, Leicester had a penalty close to the Saracens line they opted for a series of punitive scrummages instead of taking a kick at goal. But their mighty pack was kept at bay and not only had Leicester lost the opportunity of points, but, crucially as events turned out, they had lost five minutes.
Saracens adapted more readily to the fresh demands imposed by the new laws and under Michael Lynagh's artful direction, Richard Wallace was given time and space to make electrifying runs. Lynagh produced a fine kicking performance, scoring 17 points from five penalties and a conversion and gave a masterful demonstration of the fly-half's art. Outside him, Philippe Sella gave powerful support to those around him.
Contrast this with Leicester, who could scarcely keep the ball more than 30 seconds. Never in recent times have they so easily surrendered possession. In part this was a tribute to the accuracy of Saracen tackling but in the main it was the result of unpardonably careless errors.
Most significant was the duel between the rival captains. Tony Diprose is the pretender to Dean Richards's position as England's outstanding number eight. In this match Diprose totally eclipsed his foe, and on this evidence there is no place for Richards in the modern game. It was a sad sight as this great-hearted player struggled unsuccessfully to hit the pace. Time and again he summoned up all his vast experience to cover the cracks but it was not enough.
To make matters worse, Leicester's discipline hasn't improved during the summer months and from a ruck close to the Leicester line Richard Cockerill's mouth cost his side another three points.
For all their sense of adventure, Saracens scored their try from close range, with the incisive Kyran Bracken burrowing under his forwards after Tony Copsey had been driven to the line from a line-out. But the position deep inside the Leicester 22 had at least been secured by another storming run by Wallace. Lynagh's conversion from wide out was another handsome strike and proved to be the difference between the sides. But the truth is that Leicester are living in the past and on the evidence of this can look forward to the future with no great confidence.
Saracens: A Tunningley; K Chesney, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; G Holmes, G Botterman, P Wallace, P Johns, T Copsey, J Green (M Langley, 43-45), T Diprose (capt), R Hill.
Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, N Malone, R Underwood; M Jones, A Healey; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, E Miller, D Richards (captain), B Drake-Lee.
Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).Reuse content