A blistering start from Tigers saw the home side hold the lead for the first 30 minutes of the match, controlling the play and scoring a pair of wonderfully well worked tries. However, it was the visitors who showed their class, fighting back from behind and firmly establishing control in the second half to claim the victory at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Natasha Jones kicks us off and Tigers win the ball back immediately, following a knock on.
A solid scrum sees the backs feed Sarah Nicholas and, on her first start for the club, the centre makes great gainline metres early before the ball is kicked through.
Saracens recover and then break well off their first phase but a big shot by Tess Feury covering across allows fullback Amanda Swartz to win a vital early turnover, roared on by the home bench, which is duly kicked to touch on halfway.
Then, just a couple of minutes into the match, Tigers grab their first try, an absolute scorcher. A move straight from the training ground puts Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele one on one but instead of trucking it up she hits a beautiful no look pass to send Meg Jones sprinting through. The Red Rose zips to the 22, scans her options and chooses Francesca McGhie on her shoulder, the Scotland winger accelerating through to touch down under the posts.
Saracens respond almost immediately, however, winning the ball back on Tigers 22 and kicking to touch, the subsequent line-out driven over.
Tigers are here to play today though and a big turnover win halts that Saracens momentum. Captain Natasha Jones throws a big dummy to counter the rush defence and flies into space. Kasolo covers well but Jones offloads to counterpart Meg Jones who storms through again. She makes it up to outside the 22 and then Tigers fly in with phase play.
The phases keep coming and coming, Tess Feury going close, before flanker Morgan Richardson takes matters into her own hands, hitting a lovely show and go to create space before darting through and reaching out to touch down for her first ever score at a Premiership level.
Saracens respond rapidly, clearly looking to make as statement with the substitution of World Rugby’s XVs 2023 Player of the Year, Marlie Packer.
The Red Roses captain adds focused intensity immediately, loudly calling for a change of mentality and for her side to ‘wake up’. And the three time champions, the most successful team in Premiership history get back into the game, Packer herself diving over following a driving maul.
Tigers look to fire straight back and lovely tip-on’s are allowing the likes of Cockburn, Brody and Keia Mae to build great metres past the gainline and continue to ask questions of the opposition defence.
However, Packer has been relentless since coming on and the World Player of the Year wins a huge turnover to halt that momentum. Saracens waste no time in breaking forward, a bevy of offloads allowing outside-centre Sydney Gregson to touch down, despite a succession of hard-working Tigers covering back, the visitors taking the lead for the first time in the match.
It looks like they’ll get another when, following extensive build up, Packer goes through, but Eva Donaldson covers brilliantly and the ball is held up well. However, the 22 drop out is charged down and the pressure is right back on; although it’s gathered by McGhie, she’s sent into touch and Saracens have a ten metre line out. It’s halted well initially but then sufficient Sarries grunt gets it started back up and prop Bryony Field touches down in the corner.
A scrappy midfield area sees out the last few minutes as a breathless first half, back and forth comes to an end.
Half time score: Leicester Tigers 12 – 22 Saracens
The second half sees the visitors really turn the screw and begin to put a marker down, scoring several tries in rapid succession.
Tigers are going all out to get themselves back into the game, refusing to lie down.
Between the second and third tries the visitors score in the second half, Tigers mount sustained offence, the forwards giving loads of go forward and the backs probing for spaces out wide. A delicate kick through from M Jones leads to a scramble for the ball, which allows Tigers to win a penalty. The ball is kicked to touch and the rolling maul advances right to the Saracens line.
But, as the home team are about to dive over, Canada captain Sophie de Goede rips the ball away and makes a crushing break, flying up to halfway, subsequent offloads and quick hands allowing the visitors to turn from conceding a near-certain try to scoring up the other end in just seconds.
From there, Saracens just continue to fire on all cylinders, the three time champions in their groove and scoring at will, a total of six tries in the second half, meaning they turned what was actually a highly competitive match into a difficult defeat.
Tigers continued to show bucketful’s of fight throughout and got their reward with a couple of minutes left, USA international Tess Feury scoring in the corner. A great reward for patient build up, Tigers left the field just minutes later with their heads held high, despite the points disparity.
As Fran McGhie stated in the post-match chat, there are a range of positives to gleam from that performance, especially in a tumultuous first half that saw Tigers hold the lead for the first half hour.
Congratulations must go to the visitors, Saracens, who were magnificent at times and will surely be in amongst the title contention come the end of the season, just as they have been throughout the top division's short history.
Tigers will enjoy a well-earned rest now, with three weeks between now and their January 6 double-header home fixture against Harlequins. When they return, the hope is they will be rejuvenated and ready to come out fighting for that elusive first win.