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Tigers at the double after late Hipkiss try

29 May 2010
Tigers at the double after late Hipkiss try

Leicester were crowned Guinness Premiership champions for the third time in four seasons after denying Saracens title glory following an epic Twickenham tussle.

The Tigers retained their league crown by keeping composure during a thrilling encounter when the lead changed hands seven times.

Centre Matt Smith, scrum-half Ben Youngs and substitute Danny Hipkiss scored tries for Leicester, with England international Hipkiss striking three minutes from time. But it was fly-half Toby Flood's goalkicking that made the difference as he booted 18 points from four penalties and three conversions, while number eight Jordan Crane delivered a monumental Guinness man-of-the-match display.

Saracens captain Ernst Joubert claimed a touchdown in each half, and there were 17 points for fly-half Glen Jackson on his final appearance before retirement, but the Hertfordshire club have still not won a major trophy since 1998. And they will kick themselves for missing several tackles on Hipkiss during a dramatic finale after Tigers wing Scott Hamilton snaffled possession from the restart after a Jackson penalty had edged Saracens 27-26 in front.

One wondered what their absent director of rugby Brendan Venter – at home in St Albans baby-sitting his son Joshua – would have made of it all. But Venter, serving a 10-week touchline suspension and one-match Twickenham ban, could not have prevented Leicester's second-half power play.

Their forwards took control at a key stage of the contest, rewarding Leicester's sixth successive Guinness Premiership final appearance with yet more silverware, despite Saracens taking them to the wire.

Saracens restored club captain Steve Borthwick to their line-up for the first time since March following his recovery from a knee injury, but his long-term deputy Joubert remained as skipper. Leicester were unchanged from the team that accounted for semi-final opponents Bath, a side highlighted by England flanker Lewis Moody making his final appearance after 14 seasons at Tigers before joining Bath next season.

Rival kickers Jackson and Flood exchanged early penalties before a second Jackson strike edged Saracens ahead as Tigers found themselves on the back foot. But when they stirred, Leicester stung Saracens through a superbly-worked try that had its origins through wing Alesana Tuilagi's trademark blockbusting midfield run.

His power rocked the Saracens defence, and quickly recycled possession ended with Smith weaving his way over behind the posts for a try that Flood converted. Saracens needed a rapid response, and the first-time Guinness Premiership finalists did not disappoint, conjuring a classic score for Joubert after Jackson skipped through Leicester's midfield defence.

Leicester though, ended a breathless opening quarter by regaining the lead with a second Flood penalty, only for Jackson to cancel that kick out and put Saracens 14-13 in front. The lead in a pulsating final had already changed hands four times, yet Leicester had no intention of playing second fiddle as Youngs restored their lead through a sniping break and try after excellent approach work.

Flood's conversion took the Tigers six points clear, which ended the scoring of a memorable opening period when both sides looked to attack at every opportunity. Saracens had struggled in the lineouts – much of it due to Borthwick's chronic lack of games during the past two months – and he was replaced just five minutes into the second period.

Mouritz Botha took his place, but Botha's arrival coincided with Leicester looking to tighten their control up-front, and their dominant scrum resulted in a penalty that Flood accepted.

Just when things began to look bleak for Saracens though, they responded in breathtaking fashion with a try that would have graced any final. Centre Adam Powell made initial in-roads, and after flanker Andy Saull took the move on at pace, Joubert galloped over for his second touchdown.

Jackson's conversion narrowed the gap to just two points with almost 30 minutes remaining, but Flood landed another penalty that pushed Leicester 26-21 ahead.

The second-half proved a far more attritional affair until the remarkable closing stages. Jackson's double penalty strike gave Saracens a scent of glory, but then Hipkiss seized his moment in the spotlight, Flood converted and Leicester – once again – were crowned champions of England.

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