Wray of sunlight for Saracens

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The Independent Online
Saracens 25

Leicester 21

"THE reason why we have decided to sell a major stake in our club," a Saracens official said before the start of this match, "is that one day we will be able to beat the likes of Leicester." Perhaps Saracens, now that they have achieved this feat for the first time in the history of matches between the clubs, will decide two points are more precious than the pounds 2m put up by the businessman Nigel Wray, but one way or another it has been a remarkable week for them.

What is virtually certain is that the league championship is as good as over. Leicester, two points behind Bath at the start of the day and the only side with a realistic chance of overhauling the leaders, have surely lost all hope. Two late penalties by Andy Lee contributed a total of 20 points to the Saracens efforts and gave them a thoroughly well-merited victory over opponents who were incapable of stringing two decent passes together.

It was entirely appropriate that the kick which took Saracens ahead for the first time in the match with just seven minutes remaining should have resulted from Leicester's rank indiscipline. Aadel Kardooni was blatantly offside 45 yards out, and Lee's penalty hovered tantalisingly above the bar before dropping over. Another penalty, also for offside, on the stroke of time was purely cosmetic but ecstatically received by a delirious crowd.

Throughout the match Saracens had been the more constructive side. Unlike their opposite numbers they had looked more comfortable with the ball in their hands and despite coming under intense pressure in the scrums had always carried the greater threat in attack. Peter Harries' try which signalled Saracens rousing recovery came from crisp accurate passing performed at great speed. Basic stuff but quite good enough to unhinge defences in these impoverished times.

Without detracting from Saracens' performance, Leicester were indescribably awful. After their opening score five minutes into the game when Steve Hackney sped over in the corner from the wreckage of a Saracens scrum, Leicester went into a spiralling decline. John Liley did succeed with three penalties but crucially missed two fairly straightforward ones.

At fly-half, Niall Malone had neither the authority nor the tactical sense to channel Leicester's possession which, despite the absence of Neil Back who was injured and Martin Johnson who was resting before next week's international against South Africa, was in plentiful supply. Rory Underwood, who was playing but was conspicuous by his absence both in attack and in defence, also appeared to be resting.

Even on reduced power, it seemed that Leicester would win when Steve Ravenscroft meandered into midfield before sending a fatally delayed pass into Richie Robinson's path. The centre intercepted easily and galloped over for a try to put the Tigers nine points clear. But then came the try by Harries and the two penalties by Lee which assured him of his place in the club's history.

It is the future, however, which concerns us now. Nigel Wray, the man who has invested some of his personal fortune into Saracens, insists that he wishes to retain the heart and soul of the club and that he is prepared in the short term to lose money. But at least he has got off to a winning start.

Saracens: A Tunningley; M Gregory, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, P Harries; A Lee, B Davies (capt); R Andrews, G Botterman, S Wilson, D Brain, C Yandell, J Green, R Hill, A Diprose.

Leicester: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter, R Robinson, R Underwood; N Mallone, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, P Grant, M Poole, J Wells, W Drake-Lee, D Richards (capt).

Referee: D Chapman (Yorkshire).