MATCH REPORT: Saracens Men 51-18 Leicester Tigers
Simply sensational. There’s no other way to describe that one, as Saracens secured revenge for last season’s Premiership final defeat in the most spectacular of performances at the StoneX.
It was the Tigers who came out on the front foot in the early minutes, with few clues as to what was about to unfold in North London. With the penalty count falling firmly against Saracens, Freddie Burns was able to kick his side into an early 6-point lead, as the Tigers looked to assert themselves on the contest.
It took nearly ten minutes for Saracens to get any ball in the Tigers half, with Owen Farrell slotting a simple penalty to reduce the deficit once they finally did.
Whilst last year’s final was a cagey affair, this fixture burst into life thanks to a moment of genius from the backs. After Max Malins had called the mark and played the ball quickly, Farrell spotted space on the short side, fizzing the ball to Alex Lewington. From there, the winger showed his speed to break clear, finding Ivan Van Zyl on his inside. The scrum half was calm and collected when it mattered most, drawing Freddie Steward and finding Alex Lozowski on his inside to race over for a quite superb score.
Saracens were in full flight now, with Malins fizzing with confidence and energy on the wing.
It was from his chip through that a moment of controversy arose, as Saracens hunted a second score. Whilst Malins’ chip through bounced over the head of both him and Tommy Reffell, Ben Earl was on hand to collect and ground.
But, having been referred upstairs, the match officials adjudged that the slightest of touches on Reffell from Earl had been enough to send the Welsh international flying, denying Saracens a second try.
If the fans in the stands felt aggrieved by that decision, they were feeling even more so minutes later, as an awkward bouncing ball was collected by James Cronin to trot in unopposed.
The Saracens players though, were undeterred and the response was almost immediate. This time, there was no denying Earl his try, as Elliot Daly burst free down the wing, finding his teammate on his outside to skate in out wide and reclaim the lead.
It was starting to click for Saracens now, with the speed of ball from Van Zyl proving to be too much for the Tigers to handle.
With a fizz and a real spark in the attack, a stunning break from Earl put his side back on the front foot, with Farrell then putting Malins through a hole to crash over.
There was to be one more moment of magic to end the half, with the bonus point wrapped up by the impressive Van Zyl.
Again, it came from some scintillating attacking play, that saw Mako Vunipola, and Hugh Tizard link up to keep the momentum with their side. With Leicester overcommitting, Farrell sprayed the ball wide to Nick Tompkins, who found Daly on his inside to burst up towards the line. With the Tigers struggling to realign, it was left to Van Zyl to cap a superb first half performance with a try.
The Tigers made several changes at half-time in a bid to haul themselves back into the match, including the introduction of Handre Pollard.
The South African certainly showed that he was quickly acclimatising to the premiership, with a deft break to put his side on the front foot, but the Saracens defence held out, securing a crucial turnover.
Leicester were looking much stronger and were nearly in for their second of the afternoon thanks to a huge surge from their forwards. It came to nothing though, with Theo McFarland putting his body on the line to hold the ball up, before being serenaded by the Saracens faithful.
Eventually though, the visitors found a way back into the match as, after an initial break from Anthony Watson, the ball was flung wide for Freddie Steward to crash over.
After the fireworks of the first half, it was of little surprise that the second half had slowed a little from the furious pace that had been set, with Leicester content to pin Saracens into their 22, and look to draw penalties at the breakdown.
With the game reaching the hour mark, the visitors put themselves in prime position to get themselves within a score, only to be penalised for crossing at the lineout, much to the relief of those in the stands.
From there, it was defence to attack for Saracens, with Daly supremely finishing out wide, after some superb handling in the middle of the field. After ghosting pass the first defender, the fullback showed his strength, to power over in the corner, to get the crowd off their feet.
After that early second-half salvo from the Tigers, it was Saracens who were now firmly back in the driving seat, as the returning Marco Riccioni made his presence felt at the scrum.
The Tigers were powerless to stop the onslaught now, as McFarland picked up the try his performance deserved, crashing over in the corner after yet more beautiful hands had sent him through.
Time was ticking away now, but there was time for one last score to rub salt into the Tigers’ wounds, as Sean Maitland pounced on a loose pass, to set off down the field. From there, the replacement was just able to ground the ball, with the touchline conversion from Daly bringing up 50 on a quite incredible afternoon at the StoneX.