Saracens vs Leicester Tigers match report: Sarries keep double dream alive with semi-final rout

Saracens 44 Leicester Tigers 17: Sarries score five tries to back-up European Champions Cup victory with emphatic win to reach the Premiership final

Hugh Godwin
Allianz Park
Saturday 21 May 2016 14:47
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Chris Ashton and Maro Itoje celebrate Saracens' victory over Leicester Tigers
Chris Ashton and Maro Itoje celebrate Saracens' victory over Leicester Tigers

Reigning champions Saracens sailed through to a fifth Premiership final in seven seasons but there was bad news for England as the home fly-half Owen Farrell went off injured, and Leicester's Manu Tuilagi suffered an early hamstring strain on his return from missing Tigers’ last two matches of the regular league season.

Farrell was gingerly feeling the effects of a blow to the midriff when he took a late hit in the same area of the body from replacement Leicester prop Ellis Genge and went off the field. On came the Premiership’s all-time record scorer Charlie Hodgson to kick two penalties for Sarries and convert Chris Ashton’s second try - Saracens’ fifth of a semi-final that would have been horrendously one-sided if Leicester had not mounted a mini-fightback with 17 points in the third quarter.

But while Hodgson is a class act, Saracens will not fancy playing the Premiership final without Farrell’s special brand of warrior spirit.

As for Tuilagi, who has long been earmarked by England head coach Eddie Jones for the inside-centre position occupied by Farrell during this year’s Six Nations Championship, the first Test of the tour in Australia is in three weeks’ time, and the human wrecking-ball’s fragile fitness will be a concern as Tuilagi was only recently back from a chronic groin problem when he damaged his knee against Racing 92 in the European Cup semi-finals.

Chris Wyles dives over the line to score on of Saracens' five tries

Up front for Saracens, there was nothing amiss in yet another extraordinary performance in all facets by the remarkable Maro Itoje, as the 21-year-old European Cup player of the year and England Grand Slam winner completed his 22nd win in 22 starts this season for club and country.

Leicester were in the play-offs for the 12th successive season, and no one comes near to their 10 titles overall, but they have been overtaken by Saracens for sustained success of late as the London club are now looking to add a third Premiership crown to the ones they captured in 2011 and 2015.

Itoje is one of seven current Grand Slammers in the Sarries squad and they quickly set about dispelling any tiny doubt that they might have been drained physically or emotionally by last weekend’s European Cup final victory over Racing 92 in Lyon.

Instead the league-and-European double-chasers – seeking to emulate Leicester in 2001 and 2002, and Wasps in 2004 in that feat – had this play-off tie in the bag by half-time.

And unlike in Lyon where all Saracens’ points in the 21-9 victory came from Farrell’s boot with penalty kicks, the tries flowed.

Tuilagi thought he had run in a try for Leicester after 45 seconds, but it was chalked off for a knock-on in a ruck.

Telus Veainu scored a try as Leicester threatened to fight back

Two minutes later, the Saracens rampage was under way. Flanker Will Fraser scored at the posts after a snappy attack across the width of the field from a line-out – which in itself was gained through a classic Saracens tactic of turning the opposition with a grubber kick by Farrell.

Then the focus switched to Saracens’ wings as Chris Wyles raced in two tries in the 20th and 40th minutes, with another by Ashton in between. The latter score was just too easy for Saracens as No.8 Billy Vunipola rumbled down the short side of a scrum and slipped a cute, back-handed pass to Richard Wigglesworth, with Alex Goode supplying the link to Ashton who made a tricky finish look easy, rounding Telusa Veainu, who had switched to full-back when Tuilagi went off.

With Farrell maintaining his faultless kicking from Lyon, and converting all the first-half tries plus a penalty, it was a staggering 31-0 at the interval.

Owen Farrell was forced off after receiving two hard tackles

A strong breeze into Farrell’s face cost him his 100 per cent record from the tee, when he missed a penalty in the 58th minute, and by then Leicester had recovered some pride with tries by Veainu from Owen Williams’ pass, and second row Dom Barrow off a line-out drive, with Williams adding both conversions plus a penalty.

There was also a yellow card to Fraser but no real sense that Saracens were going to toss away this seventh straight appearance in the Premiership semi-finals.

Hodgson’s penalties pushed them out to 37-17, and nine minutes before the end, Itoje proved he really can do it all. Deciding not to stoop to pick a loose ball up, he sidefooted it forwards, inviting the voracious Ashton to chase. Niki Goneva hesitated, hoping to launch a counter-attack , and that was all Ashton needed, as he roared through with a toe-on and neat pick-up to score near the posts.

Scorers:

Saracens: Tries: Fraser, Wyles 2, Ashton 2; Conversions: Farrell 4, Hodgson; Penalties: Farrell, Hodgson 2.

Leicester Tigers: Tries: Veainu, Barrow; Conversions: Williams 2; Penalty: Williams.

Teams

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (M Bosch 53), B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell (C Hodgson 61), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 58); M Vunipola (R Barrington 70), S Brits (J George 48), P du Plessis (J Figallo 55), M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes (J Wray 61), W Fraser, B Vunipola (J Hamilton 73).

Leicester Tigers: M Tait (capt); T Veainu, P Betham (T Bell 79), M Tuilagi (A Thompstone 23), N Goneva; O Williams, B Youngs (J Kitto 73); M Ayerza (E Genge 55), H Thacker (L Ghiraldini 23-34, 46-66), D Cole (L Mulipola 66), D Barrow, G Kitchener (E Slater 58), M Fitzgerald (W Evans 61-65, 70), B O’Connor, L McCaffrey.

Referee: JP Doyle.

Attendance: 9,932.

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