The 28th May was a date marked in many a sports fan’s diary. It gave us the finals of both domestic rugby leagues and the football season came to an official close with the UEFA Champion’s league being played at Wembley. The only possible negative that could have been seen on the day would have been from a rugby advertiser’s point of view, as the Champion’s League final was thought to have raked in a viewing figure of over 400 million. Nevertheless, a packed day of entertainment it was, and no game disappointed in a rollercoaster Saturday that saw three deserving champions crowned.
No matter how much of a majestic display it was, this article will be dealing strictly with a final of the oval-ball nature. So, with that in mind, we’ll proceed in an orderly chronological fashion with the day’s earliest kick-off. Leicester were looking to defend their might in the Aviva Premiership, where a win over the insurgent Saracens would have brought the Tigers their third English title in as many years. On the other end, Saracens were looking to avenge their defeat in last year’s thrill-ride of a repeat fixture.
Saracens inevitably came into the game as underdogs, as Leicester had shown their competence on the bog stage time and again. However, Saracens rapid ascent in English rugby made them strong competition, and the fixture was far from decided before the kick-off. Only two points separated the Hertfordshire-based club from champions Leicester in the normal season, so the stage was set for a fixture of epic proportions between this year’s two giants.
The game began as games sometimes can with this much on the line. It was left to the boots of Toby Flood and Owen Farrell to test the teams out. Then, after a Sarries break, referee Wayne Barnes was left with no choice but to sin-bin Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs, after the England international was caught killing the ball. Young Owen Farrell stepped up to claim his three points, as he has done so many times this season, with the demeanour of a seasoned pro. Anthony Allen took over duties at number nine.
Alesana Tuilagi played his part as battering ram, as the Tigers bossed their way into the Saracens 22. Flood took his chance with the current title-holders still with only 14 men, and levelled the score at 3-3. Allen then showed why he isn’t first-choice scrum-half, throwing a pass savagely over Flood’s head. The back scrambled his way past his own goal-line, only just managing to ground it with advancing Saracens-a-plenty. Sarries failed to capitalise on the pressure however, squandering a valuable five-yard scrum and allowing Flood to clear his lines.
Fly-halves continued their private battle, exchanging penalties over the next 20 minutes to bring the score to 6-6, over which time Youngs resumed his match. Saracens, though, looked all the more dangerous when on the front foot, and it told. After 29 minutes, it was Saracens who struck a critical blow. Schalk Brits, who was eventual Man of the Match, putting James Short into the left corner, landing the only try of the match. After a video review confirmed the try, Farrell impressed again, maturely slamming home the touchline conversion. He then took his chance again when Leicester forwards were caught offside to make it 16-6, before Flood replicated the feat after a collapsed scrum. The sides went into the changing rooms with the score at 16-9. With only one try separating the two, the Tigers were far from caged.
Owen Farrell began the second half in a similar fashion to his first, nabbing 3 points from a 35m penalty. However, Floods high kicks mounted pressure on Mark McCall’s men, culminating in David Strettle conceding a penalty for holding on in the tackle, which Flood gladly struck home to bring Leicester back within a converted try. Saracen’s brought on Richard Wigglesworth and Rhys Gill, to play at scrum-half and prop respectively. With 50 minutes gone, Toby Flood had the chance to make the score 19-15 after a collapsed scrum, however screwed wide with the first missed penalty of the day.
The Leicester number 10 performed identically when given another chance from almost the exact same position, missing a second penalty in succession. However, when substitute lock, Hugh Vyvyan, went off his feet, Flood regained his composure and slotted home to bring Leicester within four points at 19-15.
After a series of tense interchanges, it was Saracens to score next as the two finalists vied for possession. Farrell again showing an insurmountable amount of maturity, rounding off the Sarries coring for the afternoon, with the scores at 22-15 with only seven minutes left to play. Leicester responded swiftly though, showing why they are one of the most successful clubs in English history, Flood knocking a pen over from 40m, recovering emphatically from those two missed chances earlier in the match. The score; a tight 22-18.
With a minute to go, the Tigers performed ferociously in the scrum as they had done all day, forcing a collapse five yards out from the Sarries goal line. For the next six minutes, Geordan Murphy urged his troops on. The likes of Crane and Tuilagi threw everything but the kitchen sink at an impenetrable Saracens defensive line. The Samoan was anything but incapable of breaking a tackle, but would today be the day where even his bullish frame could not make that vital yardage. Leicester asked the questions for a further three minutes, namely ‘Who do you think you are, attempting to take OUR title?’
Alas, it was to be Saracens day. Steve Borthwick and his men withstood nine minutes of Leicester-shaped onslaught to claim the club’s first ever Premiership title. A Saracens penalty in the 89th minute assured their victory as Twickenham erupted. Despite a sole try being scored in the game, it was as good a kicking contest one will ever witness. Although Schalk Brits claimed Man of the Match, the nine minutes of extra-time defence showed how deserving the champions are of the trophy and that every man on the team did his part, and then some. Owen Farrell showed class once more and the 19 year-old has a bright future ahead of him. 17 of Saracens’ 22 points were on his tally, and his coach/father, Andy, couldn’t be prouder I’m sure. Saracens are building momentum in this game and the Leicester Tigers are tamed, for now.