David Strettle gave the England selectors a timely reminder of his talents as his two tries saw Saracens complete a remarkable comeback and chalk up a 32-27 Aviva Premiership victory over Leicester Tigers.
Trailing 17-6 at half-time, Sarries romped back through scores from Strettle (2), James Short and Chris Wyles with centre Joel Tomkins, who trained with England this week, in fine form throughout.
Strettle has also been part of the England set-up during the Six Nations but has yet to start – although he provided the perfect response, taking his tally to four in his last four games in this victory over the Tigers.
For Leicester, it’s a fourth regular season home defeat to Saracens in a row and a loss that will be all the more difficult to take after tries from Julian Salvi and a fine team effort from Dan Bowden had given them such a healthy advantage at the interval.
But in a thrilling match, Leicester did have the final say to seal a losing bonus point with a penalty try.
Charlie Hodgson broke the deadlock on four minutes, slotting home from the tee from the side of the Tigers’ 22 and George Ford was handed the chance to level things up soon after, only to miss his 30-metre effort wide to the left.
Geordan Murphy, making his 297th start for the club, was singled out as the man to watch before kick-off by Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill – and the Irishman didn’t disappoint with two fine early runs.
The second of those brought a penalty but again Ford missed, although the fly-half did hit the target with his third attempt of the night on 21 minutes to tie the score at 3-3.
Leicester then took the lead when Salvi forced his way over for the first try of the night – converted by Ford and, with the wind in their sails, the Tigers further extended their lead with a delightful score.
Ford jinked through his own 22 and fed Murphy and the ball was moved through the hands of Matt Smith and Adam Thompstone before it found Ford again, whose chip was pounced on by Bowden, who dotted down.
Ford added the extras for a 17-3 lead but Hodgson’s second penalty of the night made sure Saracens got themselves on the scoreboard again before half-time.
And the visitors flew out of the blocks after the interval with Strettle romping home for his third Aviva Premiership try of the season, Hodgson adding the extras.
Trailing by six, Saracens then pounced again, this time though Short, who was put clear in the right-hand corner by Tomkins, ensuring the visitors led by a point after Hodgson’s conversion attempt struck the upright.
That served to stir Leicester into life and Murphy, slippery all night, again embarked on another run before feeding hooker Rob Hawkins, who knocked on ten metres short of the try-line.
And Sarries gave themselves the breathing space they wanted when Tomkins’ fired mis-pass found Strettle on the left touchline and he cruised over on 64 minutes with Hodgson converting.
Leicester were far from finished however and with nine minutes remaining, Smith was agonisingly close to getting his side back into the match, only to see his try disallowed for a forward pass but they had already been awarded a penalty and Ford’s three-pointer brought the Tigers to within five.
But Sarries struck again, this time Wyles forcing his way over to secure the bonus point and a famous comeback from the Men in Black which moved them to within a point of Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins.
There was yet another twist as Leicester refused to throw in the towel and went in search of a losing bonus point – and got it when Strettle deliberately knocked on with a number of Tigers on the outside waiting to score the probable try.
After consulting the television match official, referee JP Doyle showed Strettle a yellow card, with replacement Duncan Taylor also sent to the sin bin at the death, and awarded the penalty try, ensuring the Tigers didn’t finish the match empty-handed.