I first started watching Saracens in 2009 and I’ve seen some wonderful games, with several trophies won and lost. The first Premiership Final I attended to watch Saracens was in 2010 when Dan Hipkiss, of Leicester Tigers scored a try in the final moments to brutal Saracens hearts. Things flipped in the following year and a 9 minute defensive effort at the same end of the ground saw Tigers kept out and Saracens lifting the trophy. How emotions can flip! Last year saw the 2 teams contesting the final for the first time since 2011, Tigers had been beaten by Quins in 2012 and Beaten Northampton Saints in 2013, before their star waned somewhat.

Tigers came back with a bang last season, finishing top of the league, having won 20 of their 24 games. I always want my club teams to win, particularly in finals, but I’m a Freddie Burns fan, his drop goal to win the thing was superb! And only the most churlish of rugby fans could have begrudged Tigers and in particular Tom Youngs lifting that trophy. Especially with an ex Saracen, Steve Borthwick, leading the team in their rejuvenation.

However we are in a new season and I was as keen as every other Saracens fan to see a good win at Stonex, I honestly wasn’t;t expecting what we witnessed. Tigers lost their first game of the season, narrowly, away at Exeter Chiefs, then beat Newcastle Falcons at home and Northampton Saints away. Saracens had started with 2 wins, away at Harlequins and at home to Gloucester, wins they grabbed back after being 17 and 16 points adrift. As I said to my new West Stand neighbours they couldn’t afford to conceded that many points to this Leicester Tigers team.

Giving away 2 kickable penalties in the first 10 minutes wasn’t ideal, Burns, starting with Tigers star new signing Handré Pollard on the bench, converted both. Owen Farrell kicked his a Saracens penalty 2 minutes later to keep the gap to 3. And within another 2 minutes Saracens had their first try as they attacked from deep within their own half. The ball came out of a ruck to Ivan van Zyl, Jamie George took the ball into contact (its rather strange that the commentator muddled him up with Nick Tompkins?!? They look somewhat different!) before it made its way out to Alex Lewington out on the wing via Elliot Daly, van Zyl, who had his best game so far in a Saracens shirt, popped up on Lewington’s right and Alex Lozowski, on his shoulder, took the ball to run in and score, that, was the start of something special!

I’d listened to Rugby Union Weekly on my drive to the ground and Chris Ashton, now a Tiger, was being asked how he’d celebrate his 100th try. James Cronin, enjoying his 1st season in Leicester weren’t over for Tigers on 20 minutes, doing a very good impression on an Ash Splash, a try he won’t forget in a hurry. Freddie Burns had chipped the ball over for himself, Billy Vunipola got in the way, but tipped the ball towards Cronin who took full advantage. Booing can clearly be heard on the replay I’m watching, not a good sound, can I recommend, again, a ref link? That way fans know in the ground why and how decisions have been made. While I’m on things likely to make fans boo, the penalty count was high again against Saracens, but they gave 14 to Tigers 13, so no real gap between the teams in that aspect.

Ben Earl was denied a try as he and Max Malins both chased a ball Malins had chipped forwards into Tigers in goal area, he’d pushed the Tigers defender, Tommy Reffell ,in the back, therefore – no try, rightly so. He wasn’t going to be denied moments later as he did a very good impression of a winger as Saracens attacked from their own half again. Elliot Daly was involved in most of what went right for Saracens in this match and his perfectly timed pass to Earl out him in to score.

Ben Earl, Forward or Back?

Callum Hunter-Hill was lucky on 25 minutes when the TMO spotted a shoulder in the ruck, the decision to award just a penalty was made quickly, but the referee was very clear that had he made contact higher he’d have been in a lot of trouble, there was no big screen review.

There’s a strong rumour that Max Malins is planning to leave Saracens at the end of the season to head west to Bristol Bears, where he’ll play in his preferred position of full back, he really showed the home fans what they’ll missing in this game and his was the next name on the score sheet. Saracens won a line out as Theo McFarland showed his basketball skills taking the ball with one hand, the ensuing attack came to nothing as Ben Earl passed the ball to Freddie Burns, but boy the next phase did as Saracens ran the ball back, it was Jamie George, correctly named this time who ran a brilliant line to give the final pass to Max Malins to score, George stepped round Jimmy Gopperth, who made the move from Wasps for this season.

Saracens received a warning for the number of penalties being given away on 35 minutes, but Tigers flailed to capitalise from the resulting line out as Saracens won the ball back, turning over the ball in the maul, Lozowski holding up his opposite Centre Phil Cockanasiga. Van Zyl kicked the ball from the base of the scrum and Freddie Steward ran the ball back; Ben Earl pounced once Steward had been tackled and the penalty was won. Saracens scored their bonus point try just before half time as initially the forwards carried the ball, with Hugh Tizard in particular making good ground. Daly, of course was involved as the ball found its way to the forwards and Ivan van Zyl jumped over the Tigers defenders to score. The teams went in with the score on Saracens 27 Leicester Tigers 13.

After 2 weeks of going behind it was joy to see Saracens walk in at halftime with a decent lead. Handre Pollard entered the fray after half-time, his thigh heavily bandaged. Daly had first dibs at a penalty kick, a long range effort from an angle, he had the distance but not the accuracy. It was Tigers who scored the first points of the half. As Pollard came on, Steward moved onto the wing as Burns went to Fullback. A lovely floating ball out to him, from Cockanasiga, on the wing saw him go through Malins and van Zyl to score. That closed the gap to 9 with 51 minutes played.

Freddie Steward, a hard man to stop.

Tigers had made several substitutions including former Saracens man Chris Ashton, Saracens brought on Alex Goode, always a popular player, and Jackson Wray who’s been an amazing player for Saracens came on for his 200th appearance. He’s best used from the bench these days and tends to make an instant impact. It was good to see Italian prop Marco Riccioni coming on after being out with a long term knee injury, hopefully he’ll get his chance to make an impact this season. Ruben de Haas replaced Ivan van Zyl who’s had a great game.

A penalty for Saracens sae them deep in the Tigers half and with another penalty in waiting that ball went through the back hands again and ended with Daly out on the left wing, Daly got through 3 Tigers defenders for a much deserved 5 points. Farrell added the extras and the gap went back to 16 with 61 minutes on the clock.

Elliot Daly had a hand in most good things for Saracens, yet wasn’t’t included in the England training squad, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s picked for the Autumn internationals.

Farrell added 3 points with a penalty stretching the lead to 19 with 65 minutes on the clock. Theo McFarland is getting better and better every time he takes to the pitch and this game was no exception, he scored Saracens 6th try after Farrell kicked to touch after another Tigers penalty. Pollard left the field as the line out was being sorted, a concern for Tigers. McFarland grabbed the ball from the ruck and dived over the line to score. Jackson Wray had been a big factor in getting the ball to a good position

The McFarland takes the ball over the line.

Saracens hadn’t finished yet and it was Sean Maitland, another player making a welcome return who found himself with ball in hand and space in front of him, he backs himself and headed for the corner, very nearly dropping the ball as he went, the ball went down and with Farrell off the pitch Elliot Daly added the extras to take the final score to Saracens 51 Leicester Tigers 18.

To a man Saracens were outstanding, it was a dominant display, several players could have been Man of the Match, but that accolade went to Theo McFarland. A tough day at the office for Leicester Tigers, but I imagine they’ll be there or thereabouts at the end of the season,

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