Leicester overpower Owen Farrell-led Saracens in Welford Road cracker

Leicester overpower Owen Farrell-led Saracens in Welford Road cracker

Leicester Tigers' Dan Kelly dives in to score the first try of their Premiership win over Saracens

Leicester’s gritty victory over Saracens keeps them in the race for a top-four finish in the Premiership

Credit: PA/Joe Giddens

Leicester Tigers 19-10 Saracens

It was not quite the 11-try thriller that Sandy Park produced, but it was still Premiership rugby at its best. If Northampton’s exhilarating victory over Exeter was the beauty, then this was the beast. Thankfully, both have a place in this sport.

Leicester’s victory keeps them firmly in the hunt for the play-offs and was built on a phenomenal forward effort. Just like last week, England duo Ollie Chessum and George Martin were towering, but it was Joe Heyes, the England tighthead, alongside loosehead James Cronin, who ensured that Saracens returned to north London empty-handed. The Tigers pack bared their claws and with that brutal engine room, the front row obliterated the visiting scrum. It was a massacre that the Welford Road faithful will have seen all too often.

“Heyesey is an incredible talent,” said Dan McKellar, Leicester’s head coach. “He doesn’t realise how good he can be. The scrum was an area where we thought we could assert dominance and he delivered. He has a chance of playing the Six Nations and that won’t do his chances any harm.”

The victory leaves Leicester just three points off the top four, admittedly with Bath hosting Gloucester on Sunday, and just two points behind Saracens. It was a conquering of Mark McCall’s team that ignited last season’s remarkable push for the play-offs and beating the same side by more than a score this season will have done the Tiger confidence little harm.

Saracens, shorn of their three first-choice looseheads owing to either suspension or injury, did play the prettier rugby. Owen Farrell, with speculation around his future swirling, was majestic at times; so, too, Elliot Daly. Some of Saracens’ first-phase work was sublime but they were bullied and battered up front by a Leicester team that, when their attack faltered, could rely on grunt to see them home.

The message from this young child to Owen Farrell is clear and here is the fly-half greeting his fan

Credit: PA/Joe Giddens

Farrell’s afternoon veered from the sublime to the shocking – mainly the former – with little in between. The fly-half threw a pass straight to Dan Kelly and Leicester took an early lead, but Saracens replied sumptuously.

The ball went through six pairs of hands before full-back Tom Parton crossed in one of the most stylish first-phase moves you might glimpse this season. It was deployed again in the second half, again to dramatic effect, but no score was forthcoming. Farrell converted the first-half effort and followed up with two pinpoint cross-field kicks as Saracens swept upfield. At the end of it all, Heyes tackled Maro Itoje off the ball and Farrell extended the lead to five.

Solome Kata’s powerful carrying gave Leicester much-needed go-forward

Credit: Getty Images/David Rogers

A shanked Farrell kick gave Leicester the field position for a response, however. With Heyes motoring, Matt Rogerson bundled his way over. Pollard’s conversion gave Leicester a narrow lead, which might have been greater had Kelly’s try on the stroke of half-time not been ruled out for the tightest of calls.

Harry Simmons’ nifty finish gave the Tigers daylight, with the visitors not managing a solitary point in the second half and having to cope with an Itoje sin-bin. Leicester’s run – La Rochelle and Leinster await – is about as savage as they come, but this victory ensured the Tigers entered 2024 with the momentum that their tight work deserves.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 5-0 Kelly try, 5-5 Parton try, 5-7 Farrell con, 5-10 Farrell pen, 10-10 Rogerson try, 12-10 Pollard con, 17-10 Simmons try, 19-10 Pollard con.

HT: 12-10

Leicester: F Steward (Shillcock 72); H Simmons, D Kelly, S Kata, M Brown; H Pollard, T Whiteley (Youngs 55); J Cronin (Van Wyk 60), J Montoya (c) (Theobold-Thomas 71), J Heyes (Hurd 60), G Martin (Wells 71), O Chessum, M Rogerson (Hatherell 69), T Reffell (Cracknell 75), J Wiese.

Saracens: T Parton; R Segun (Lewington 68), E Daly, N Tompkins, L Cinti; O Farrell (c), G Simpson (Van Zyl 58); S Crean (Mulipola 67), K Pifeleti (Dan 8), C Judge (Hoskins 49), M Itoje, H Tizard (Isiekwe 49), T McFarland (Christie 68), J M González, B Earl.

Replacements unused: Manu Vunipola.

Yellow card: Itoje 56

Referee: L Pearce

Attendance: 22,119

Tigers earn deserved win over Sarries – as it happened

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Mark McCall speaks to TNT Sport – ‘There are a lot of things to be optimistic about’

On the Saracens performance…

“There were things I liked today and other things we need to to improve on. When you are in their 22 you have to take their chances. I liked what we did in defence. There are a lot of things to be optimistic about.”

On whether speculation about players (Farrell) moving affects the team…

“Not sure. Like I said before the game we have an injury list we haven’t encountered for a while. Having a cohesive team is not something we’ve had so far. Hope to have that coming up.”

Ollie Chessum is man of the match

On the win…

“We’re  really proud. That was a team effort, it was a massive, massive game for us and it was a full 80-minute game for us.”

On where that leaves them in the title race…

“The tale of the season is that it’s a bit of sprint. There are 10 teams in i. When you play Sarries it’s a Test match feel to it.”

More on the victory…

“We’ve been involved in some great matches [against] these boys, they’ve given us a couple of hidings so to win is great.”

FULL TIME: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

That’s it – a much-needed, vital win for Leicester. They overpowered Sarries who were completely dominated at the scrum. But for handling errors the hosts would have won more comfortably. Leicester are scrappers and scrapped well today. 

78 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries are working hard, keeping the ball alive but Leicester are defending well and this match, you suspect, is all but done. 

76 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

The hosts are in the Sarries 22, they are penalised but with time passing the visitors keep the ball in hand and that suits Tigers as keep them in their half and this match is theirs. 

Here’s that Simmons score…

72 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries are still very much in this contest. They have a penalty inside the Tigers half and Farrell launches the ball to the corner – great kick. 

From the resulting line out they, however, gift possession to Tigers as Isiekwe is penalised. 

69 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Great stuff from Saracens and it comes off first phase (line out) they create so much space so qucikly, they time their run, draw people before passing at the right time. This attack sees them move the ball down the line before Lewington is played into on the right. The pass wasn’t pinpoint, however, and he is able to be tackled as a result. 

66 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Another Leicester knock on, this one in the Sarries 22 and from Chessum. I make that the 13th handling error from the hosts. Had they been more sharp this match could well have been over by now. 

Hayes for England?

This is turning into a scrum obliteration at Leicester. Saracens might have played the more stylish rugby, but they now trail by nine points having been demolished up front. A reminder, too, that Leicester tighthead Joe Heyes is capped and has been on Steve Borthwick’s England radar for some time.

64 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

The play is really breaking up and it’s not overly obvious that Sarries are a man down. But as I type Tigers win a penalty and will kick into the visitors’ half. 

62 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries need to do two things (i) stay away from the scrum, and (ii) need Farrell to find his kicking boots again and find territory from which they can attack. 


Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Scrum for Sarries in their 22 but this time the Tigers really show their power. The visitors are rocked back and it’s a penalty to the hosts.

Take the points? They have to convert this pressure into points…

BUT NO, they go for another scrum and it’s the right decision as they go to the shortside and Simmons scores his first try in the right corner. Bravo. They’ve been well on top the past 10 minutes and now have a try to show for it. 

Pollard then knocks the conversion over right from the touchline. Great stuff. 

Thunderous contest so far

This one might have been low on scores but it has not been low on quality. A thunderous contest so far, full of everything which makes the Premiership great, and there is surely a thrilling finish in store. 

57 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

From the resulting scrum, five metres out, they ship the ball wide but there’s a knock on with the line crying out at them. Oh dear, they had to convert this pressure into points, these handling errors – 12 now this match – could well cost them. 

55 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

From the resulting line out Sarries are again penalised for closing the gap (Itoje the man at fault). It’s a Tigers scrum (no shock there – it’s the hosts MO). 

Sarries have stopped the line out can they stop the scrum? No, they are again penalised and Wiese takes a tap and go. They are offside and this time the yellow card is shown. Can be no complaints really…though as I type that Austin Healey on commentary says: ‘that is super harsh.’

53 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Scrum penalty for the hosts and they kick for touch. That earns them valuable territory from where they move through the phases, keeping the ball in hand. Sarries are then penalised for not moving away and the hosts again kick for touch. 

51 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

There have been one or two mistakes this half which were absent in the first 40. Cinti here knocks on after good work from his Sarries team-mates. 

…. to be continued
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