Derick Hougaard kicked 16 points as Saracens avenged their Twickenham misery against Leicester.
Saracens are still hurting from losing the Aviva Premiership Rugby title to Leicester in the dying embers of a wonderful play-off final at Twickenham in May. Yet they nearly threw it away again, scorning a simple three points when leading 26-10 and eventually hanging on to see off the champions.
While the home team fielded many of their big guns, including former England captain Steve Borthwick, Leicester were forced to change their shape to cope with a combination of injuries, not least to fly-halves Toby Flood and Jeremy Staunton, and enforced resting of Elite Player Squad members Ben Youngs and George Chuter.
After 18 hours of heavy rain, and another morning downpour, there were fears the Vicarage Road pitch would be affected, but Saracens kicked off without rain or surface water.
Within minutes Leicester won a penalty after Saracens wheeled a reset scrum under pressure, which Billy Twelvetrees punted into touch. But Leicester then conceded a penalty at the lineout as French referee Romain Poite stamped his authority on matters early.
Saracens butchered a scoring opportunity on 10 minutes when David Strettle touched down on the right only for the referee to signal a forward pass during the build-up. But it was the home team calling the shots, and fly-half Hougaard was only narrowly off target with a 50-yard drop-goal.
Leicester finally got themselves some good ball and were into the home 22 before Saracens could regroup. But a moment's hesitation by James Grindal led to the attack being shunted sideways and then smothered.
Hougaard had another shot at goal in the 20th minute, a penalty from close to halfway, and that too had the distance but faded off target. Strettle was troubling the Leicester defence, and a fine run past three tacklers led to a powerful home attack and a fine try in the 23rd minute.
Chris Wyles escaped an attempted tackle by Matt Smith and surged up the right channel. His pass right found prolific hooker Schalk Brits thundering up the wing, and he duly scored behind the posts, making Hougaard's conversion uncomplicated.
That was Brits' third try in three starts, continuing the remarkable scoring knack he demonstrated last season. It was no more than Saracens deserved, and Leicester were already showing signs of minor panic under pressure, gifting Hougaard another long-range shot at goal from 55 yards. This time it sailed between the posts.
Leicester had a decent chance after 32 minutes, but Tom Croft fumbled Smith's pass. But Leicester camped in the Saracens 22 for the first time in the game, earning successive penalties, both chosen as scrums. The referee warned both captains after some twisting and turning, and when the third scrum also imploded, Deon Carstens was sin-binned in the 36th minute.
When a fifth scrum was turned, Jacques Burger was adjudged to have dived on the ball in an offside position and Leicester were awarded a penalty try, converted by Twelvetrees. Saracens were determined to end the half on top, and when Brits again drove into the heart of the defence after 39 minutes, Richard Wigglesworth snatched a close-range pass and raced up the left to score, Hougaard converting.
Twelvetrees cut the deficit two minutes into the second half but Hougaard restored the 10-point margin three minutes after that, and increased it with another splendid kick after 51 minutes. He gave Leicester a mountain to climb with a soaring drop-goal in the 55th minute, followed closely by a yellow card for Smith for ball-killing.
Twelvetrees kept Leicester in touch with a penalty on 64 minutes, but within two minutes, they visitors lost Ed Slater to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. Yet Leicester fought back to grab an unexpected try after 69 minutes when full-back Lucas Amorosino kicked ahead up the left and beat everyone to score. Twelvetrees converted to set up a nail-biting finale.
Hougaard missed two late penalties, which could have calmed the nerves, but Saracens held on.