May 10, 2014
Saracens narrowly beaten by Tigers
A much changed Saracens were narrowly beaten by a strong Leicester Tigers side 31-27 at Welford Road.
Mark McCall's side ran the reigning Premiership Champions close in a game where they had to play a prolonged period with only 14-men.
Saracens got off to the dream start. After forcing the Tigers into their own 22 with some intuitive phase play, Ben Spencer spotted the smallest of gaps as the Tiger ruck markers began to stray. With good pace, strength and determination the Saracens half-back wriggled through to score ten metres from the left hand touchline. Hodgson couldn’t convert.
Tigers Welsh fly-half Owain Williams reduced the deficit for the home side with a well struck penalty in the swirling Leicestershire wind as the experienced Leicester side began to assert their dominance. Despite feeding off scraps it was Saracens who again went close, with a scorching Charlie Hodgson break. Leicester scrambled well, but concede a penalty, Hodgson made no mistake to make the scores Leicester 3 Saracens 8.
The Tigers though continued to look the stronger but were frustrated by a stubborn Saracens defensive unit typified by some colossal hits from captain Jamie George on England midfield wrecking ball Manu Tuilagi and the efforts of Premiership debutant Maro Itoje, who was excellent throughout.
But the Tigers would go into the break with the lead, as Greg Garner awarded a penalty try on the 40th minute as Saracens collapsed a scrum.
After the break the game began at a frantic pace, with Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Michael Tagicakibau all producing some tough tackling that typified the committed nature of the contest. Fijian winger Tagicakibau though would fall foul of the officials, when he was in-binned for hit on replacement Marco Ayerza that a few seasons ago would have been widely acknowledged as a great hit.
Things went from bad to worse for Saracens when German international flanker Justin Melck saw red, the first Saracens player to do so since Ben Coles against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens in 1999 as the Tigers crossed for their first score of the second half through centre Tuilagi. The red card was extremely questionable, and the club will be appealing the decision.
Down to thirteen men the Tigers began to look rampant, with USA winger Blaine Scully crossing for the home side. Unbelievably it was Saracens who would score next. Even with a man down in the pack Saracens forced the Tigers into conceding a penalty try, which scrum-half Ben Spencer converted.
Leicester hit back through second-rower Graham Kitchener, Flood converted from out wide.
Saracens though, now back to 14-men with Tagicakibau returning from the bin, refused to yield to the green, red and white tide with Jack Wilson scoring immediately form the restart. Maro Itoje made a nuisance of himself, gathered the ball, showed great strength and subtlety to find kiwi winger Wilson who raced over to score. Spencer missed the conversion, as the scores were now 31-20.
Then came the moment of the match, with the Tigers looking like they were almost home and hosed, Thomas Waldrom broke from the scrum looking to feed winger Scully only to find Ben Spencer who raced away, taking on three covering Leicester defenders to finish superbly in the corner.
Spencer converted his own try to make the game a four point ball game, but the Tigers held on.
Next up for Saracens is Harlequins at Allianz Park in the Aviva Premiership semi-final.