England fly-half Toby Flood kicked Leicester to victory as Saracens’ Guinness Premiership title ambitions were served another reality check at Vicarage Road.
Flood finished with 17 points and Dan Hipkiss claimed the only try of the game on the back of a dominant performance from Leicester’s hard-nosed pack. Saracens earned a losing bonus point to remain top of the table – but after four unbeaten months they have now lost on consecutive weekends to London Irish and Leicester, last season’s Guinness Premiership Grand Finalists.
The Tigers dominated possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes but trailed 6-3 after a typically defiant defensive display from Brendan Venter’s Saracens. Justin Marshall’s try-saving tackle on Scott Hamilton and a bone-shuddering hit from Brad Barritt on Lote Tuqiri typified why the Men In Black have been so hard to beat this season. But after the interval, Hipkiss chiselled his way over and Leicester then cranked up the pressure with a raft of penalties and a destructive forwards performance.
Leicester’s pack fired an early warning signal when they drove Saracens back 15 metres in the scrum before referee David Rose awarded the a penalty. Flood failed to equalise Glenn Jackson’s early strike but the miss did little to halt Leicester’s momentum.
The forwards earned quick ball for impressive scrum-half Ben Youngs and Flood, who pressed his case for a recall to the England set-up, but Saracens’ defence held firm. Leicester were forced into a change when Anthony Allen limped out of the game and Jeremy Staunton came on at fly-half with Flood moving to inside centre.
The Tigers’ best scoring chance of the half followed an over-hit cross-kick from Jackson, which allowed Staunton and Hamilton to launch a counter-attack. Marshall tracked his fellow New Zealander and pulled off a brilliant tackle in the corner but he could not force Hamilton out and the Tigers drew a penalty which Flood converted.
Saracens responded positively with Marshall taking a quick tap before releasing Andy Saull, who chipped in behind the Leicester defence before being taken out off the ball by Leicester prop Boris Stankovich, who was sin-binned for his efforts. Saracens had one attempt at scoring from close range but then opted for the points, which Jackson accepted to secure the half-time lead.
Derick Hougaard replaced Jackson at the interval and almost immediately extended Saracens’ advantage to 9-3 with a penalty from halfway before Hipkiss scored a classic Leicester try. Ben Youngs’ tap penalty took Leicester within striking distance and after sustained forward pressure, Hipkiss was on hand to score the only try of the game.
Hougaard and Flood exchanged penalties before Hamilton launched a counter-attack from deep inside his 22, linked with Tuqiri and had Saracens stretched when Youngs’ pass deflected off Steve Borthwick. The England captain was sin-binned for off-side and although Flood missed that penalty shot – but Leicester’s dominant pack soon splintered Saracens’ scrum again and Flood kicked the Tigers clear.