Leicester Tigers Win Guinness Premiership Final at Twickenham
A last-gasp try from Dan Hipkiss wrenched the Guinness Premiership from Saracens’ grasp in a thrilling 33-27 final win on Saturday.
In an enthralling match, the Tigers ended up giving their opporition a lesson in how to win a tournament. Saracens took the lead with four minutes to go, a result of concerted pressure from the men in black. Going on the momentum of the game, you would have thought it was the winning score, but Brendan Venter’s men made a fatal error of thinking the game was done and dusted.
Leicester regathered their own restart and scored the real winner. Because, as the Tigers have preved again and again, real winners work for all eighty minutes. That’s what they’ll be saying on reflection anyway.
Saracens won the opening salvo of penalties in the first ten minutes and led 6-3, but there was little to disguise that Leicester’s early attacking threat was the more potent. Both forwards and backs displayed excellent soft handling skills and twice it took last-ditch tackles to deny the Tigers.
The Saracens defence was consistently stretched for numbers and when Geordan Murphy and Scott Hamilton once again straightened and popped wide, Matt Smith was there to take the narrow overlap and open the try account. Toby Flood converted for a 10-6 lead.
Back came Sarries, who were not shy of having a go even if less effective, but when Glen Jackson’s dummy and loop tempted Anthony Allen into breaking his defensive line, Ernst Joubert was there to take the ball through the gap and motor to the corner. Jackson couldn’t convert.
Flood (Wearing His Asics Testimonial Rugby Boots) landed his side’s second penalty with referee Dave Pearson continuing to penalise the offside line mercilessly, so the Tigers led 13-11 at the end of an entertaining first quarter, a reasonable reflection of the game.
Better was to come. After Jackson had given Saracens back the lead with his third penalty, Leicester’s ability to turn ball over and to offload in the tackle once again paid rich dividends. After Jordan Crane, Allen and Martin Castrogiovanni – prominent several times in open play – had made yardage from a turnover, Ben Youngs darted round the fringe and through a hole for his side’s second under the posts.
There was the difference between the sides in the first half right there. Leicester’s ability to keep momentum going and keep the ball alive held them in good stead, while Saracens, despite ofering plenty of physicality and careful pstructured play, didn’t seem to possess the same internal understanding and trust of each other to crack Leicester’s defence open. Occasional flashes of individual brilliance aside, Leicester’s defence always looked to have things under control.
That was epitomised on the half hour as Brad Barritt hesitated to pass wide, then did so, but long over his winger’s head and harmlessly into touch. Not long after the ball was moved down a Leicester line including not only all the open side members of the three-quarters but also the back-row trio. Leicester were just a touch slicker.
The second half began similarly, with Leicester showing a little more aptitude for closing the game down and earning a penalty which Flood converted to open up a two-score lead for the first time in the game.
Saracens hit back instantly and devastatingly. Using their own back row out wide, Andy Saull (Wearing His Nike Legend Rugby Boots) picked a fine angle to come onto a pass with Leicester’s defensive line again broken by somebody rushing up too much outside. Once again, Joubert was the man on hand to run the ball home in the corner and Jackson this time converted to bring Sarries to within two once more.
Leicester understandably went into their shells a bit as they looked to regroup briefly. Plan B involved keeping the ball in hand, ultra-tight and putting immense pressure on in the scrums. It yielded a further penalty for Flood to make it 26-21.
Saracens kept up the chase. A grubber through from Barritt was so nearly picked up and scored by Brits. Both Jackson and Flood missed penalties as Leicester’s pressure at the scrum was countered by Sarries’ ability to create quick ball and catch Leicester offside at the fringes. With ten minutes to go, Jackson did reduce the arrears to two.
Saracens piled on the pressure. They did everything that could reasonably have been asked of them. Schalk Brits so nearly wriggled away to cap off a Players’ Player of the Season award with the Premiership-clinching try. And then, with four minutes to go, the waves of Saracens attacks yielded a penalty in front of the posts for Jackson, who gave his side the lead.
So exciting. So exhilarating. So easy to think that might be it. For Saracens, so short-lived. Scott Hamilton snapped up the restart and broke, Allen took the ball at an angle and was caught high. Everybody stopped for the penalty except for Dan Hipkiss, who barrelled through for the try that won the Premiership. A lesson in last-minute concentration from the team that’s been there and done it before and did it again today.
Tries: Smith, Youngs, Hipkiss
Cons: Flood 3
Pens: Flood 4
Tries: Joubert 2
Pens: Jackson 4
Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy (capt), 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Joe Duffey, 17 Dan Cole, 18 Boris Stankovich, 19 Craig Newby, 20 Ben Woods, 21 James Grindal, 22 Jeremy Staunton, 23 Dan Hipkiss.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Glen Jackson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert (capt), 7 Andy Saull, 6 Jacques Burger, 5 Hugh Vyvyan, 4 Steve Borthwick, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Richard Skuse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Justin Marshall, 22 Derick Hougaard, 23 Kameli Ratuvou.
Referee: Dave Pearson
Assistant referees: Stuart Terheege, Robin Goodliffe