Premiership: Leicester Tigers withstand Saracens fightback to boost play-off hopes

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Leicester Tigers were thankful to an outstanding first half and a superb defensive effort after the break to maintain their top-four ambitions following a 24-18 victory over Saracens.

The defending champions have struggled this season, not helped by losing Steve Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield to England, but this was a step in the right direction.

They dominated the opening period and went 24-3 in front thanks to tries from Handre Pollard, Cameron Henderson and debutant Mike Brown.

Alex Goode’s penalty was the Premiership leaders’ only response in the first 39 minutes but tries either side of the break from Eroni Mawi and Alex Lewington gave Sarries hope.

There was still half-an-hour remaining and the Londoners created a number of try-scoring opportunities to go ahead, but the Tigers’ rearguard held firm.

Richard Wigglesworth’s men held out under immense pressure as they moved to within three-points of fourth place Gloucester.

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Alex Goode led out Saracens to become the first player to reach 350 appearances for the club in the professional era. Former England full-back Brown made his debut for Leicester with Jimmy Gopperth making his 200th Premiership appearance.

Leicester took a sixth-minute lead with a stunning try. On halfway, Jasper Wiese tore through a huge hole in the visitors’ defence to run 55 metres before being hauled down inches short. However, the ball was quickly recycled for Pollard to crash over.

Eight minutes later, the hosts repeated the dose with another 55-metre surge. This time it was Brown who made the initial break with captain Julian Montoya twice involved before Henderson dived over.

Pollard converted both tries and, although Goode put his side on the scoreboard with a penalty, Saracens trailed 14-3 at the end of a lively first quarter.

The league leaders’ woes continued as they lost flanker Jackson Wray to an arm injury before conceding a third try.

Creative play from fellow veterans Gopperth and Chris Ashton gave Brown the chance to evade the final defender for another impressive score.

Ashton came close to making it four tries for Leicester before half-time but an excellent tackle from Lewington dragged the wing into touch before Pollard kicked a penalty from halfway.

Saracens needed a response before half-time to keep in contention and got one when Mawi forced his way over from close range, with Goode’s conversion leaving his side 24-10 in arrears at the interval.

Six minutes after the restart, Goode kicked a penalty before Lewington capitalised on a Tigers’ handling error by picking up a loose ball and running 70 metres to score.

The tide was now turning in Saracens’ favour so the home side brought on Wales international flanker Tommy Reffell in an attempt to reverse the momentum.

However, it was still one-way traffic as Saracens besieged the home line.

Alex Lozowski made a clean break to take his team to within metres of scoring but despite continual pressure, Leicester remarkably held out with a number of last-ditch tackles to collect a valuable four points.

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