Replacement Billy Twelvetrees missed a last-gasp penalty as Saracens moved to within two points of Leicester at the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with an attritional 15-14 win at Welford Road.
A magnificent try from Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi separated the sides at the break as three penalties apiece from Jeremy Staunton and Alex Goode saw the hosts hold a 14-9 interval lead. But the Tigers remained scoreless after the break and two more Goode penalties, the second just five minutes from time, saw Saracens become the first side to win at Welford Road in the league this season.
Leicester had a late chance to snatch a 10th-straight league win but Twelvetrees, just on from the bench, pushed his effort wide with time up to spark jubilant celebrations among the visiting players.
This top-of-the-table contest failed to catch light as the packs battled for every inch of turf, but Saracens will not care about that as they served notice of their intent to reach back-to-back Aviva Premiership Rugby finals after a tremendous forward effort saw them match the Tigers’ much-vaunted eight.
Leicester had brought lock George Skivington back into their side as Tom Croft moved into the back row to start alongside Craig Newby and Thomas Waldrom. Saracens made just one change from their win over Wasps as Mouritz Botha came into the second row, with fellow lock Hugh Vyvyan set to break Simon Shaw’s Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance record of 232 by appearing off the bench.
Goode booted Sarries into a sixth-minute lead with a penalty after some accurate line-out work from the visiting pack, but Staunton quickly levelled during a stop-start opening. The visitors looked assured with Botha, Schalk Brits and Andy Saull carrying strongly as they had the better of territory and possession, and they were rewarded by Goode’s second penalty after 17 minutes.
The intensity went up a notch as Manu Tuilagi superbly snaffled a turnover, before his brother Alesana was clattered by a huge double hit from Botha and Brad Barritt. But Sarries failed to stay on their feet at the resulting breakdown to allow Staunton to level matters from 40 metres.
An awful pass from Goode then put Saracens under all sorts of pressure and when a clearing kick only reached Alesana Tuilagi he found his brother Manu. The England Saxons cap powerfully fended off David Strettle and Owen Farrell to escape down the touchline before barrelling through Ernst Joubert’s final challenge for a try confirmed by the video official. Staunton missed the conversion but the Tigers were into an 11-6 lead at the half-hour mark.
The Tigers turned the screw and further pressure led to another penalty which Staunton converted, but Goode quickly cancelled that effort out with a third penalty of his own. Another impressive Manu Tuilagi break again had the visitors under the cosh, but a brave defensive effort ensured they got down the tunnel at half-time without conceding again.
The visitors lost prop Rhys Gill to injury shortly after the resumption, with Matt Stevens taking over loosehead duties. Leicester responded by bringing on the power of Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni on their tighthead. Vyvyan also came off the bench to secure his appearance record, but Leicester continued to shade the contest – with Manu Tuilagi winning another turnover and proving destructive in defence.
Sarries sought a response as they hammered away in the Tigers 22, they battered away through countless phases but the Tigers held firm and won a penalty in front of their own posts to clear their lines. Leicester looked set to extend their lead when anther penalty came their way but an off-the-ball offence by Newby saw the decision reversed.
A powerful Sarries scrum then saw the Leicester front row concede a penalty which Goode slotted with 15 minutes to play to close the gap to just two points. Staunton missed the chance to re-establish the five-point lead after Adam Powell was adjudged to have held Alesana Tuilagi back, missing the target with a straightforward penalty.
And the miss proved costly as Goode slotted the winning kick with five minutes remaining as Leicester flopped off their feet at a ruck. There was one last chance for Leicester, but Twelvetrees was off target.