Leicester Tigers went down to a 29-17 Aviva Premiership defeat to Saracens at Welford Road on Christmas Eve.
Tigers scored two tries in each half through Mathew Tait and a penalty score from a dominant scrum.
But Saracens scored two tries of their own, a penalty try after Jonny May knocked on to deny Sean Maitland, and a score for Jamie George. Owen Farrell landed a drop goal and four penalties to inflict a fifth successive defeat on the Tigers, for whom May received a red card for his second knock-on 11 minutes from time.
A season’s best crowd of 24,873 were at Welford Road for the first Christmas Eve fixture since 1927.
Logovi’i Mulipola returned at loosehead prop in the only change to the starting team from the side that played against Munster. He replaced Kyle Traynor, who moved to the bench. Harry Wells came in for Dom Barrow in the replacements in the only other change to the matchday 23.
It was a cagey opening with both sets of half-backs and each full-back looking to kick for territory.
Saracens were the first to put any phases together with a passage of possession on the Tigers 22 that brought them a penalty when Ben Youngs was pinged for playing his opposite number Ben Spencer. Owen Farrell landed a simple penalty to put the visitors 3-0 ahead after six minutes.
It settled Saracens into the game and they came again at Tigers with Spencer booming a penalty to the corner. Tigers held off the drive, but eventually conceded a penalty under the posts. Saracens kept playing and Marcelo Bosch’s pass for Sean Maitland was knocked on by Jonny May as he tried to intercept.
May was sent to the bin and referee Matthew Carley awarded Saracens a penalty try.
Tigers settled into the game with two penalties in quick succession, which took them up to the Saracens 5m line. There Graham Kitchener set up the drive, but Tigers were never in complete control and Saracens smothered the ball to win the scrum put-in.
Tigers put together a brilliant defensive set to keep their line intact after 18 minutes. Firstly, Adam Thompstone held up Chris Wyles on the left which was followed by a huge hit from Tuilagi before Bosch’s final pass to the unmarked Maitland went forward into touch.
May returned to the field with no further addition to the score.
However, Saracens did extend their lead with a second try in the 25th minute. Hooker Jamie George stepped onto a short pass from Farrell, held off Mapapalangi to score under the posts. Farrell converted to put Sarries 17-0 ahead.
Tigers had to score next and they did that through Tait’s second try in as many games. And it owed much to the skill and quick-thinking of Adam Thompstone.
Thompstone was tight to the touchline and being tackled by two men when he managed to flick his offload inside for Tait to score at the right-hand corner. Ford landed the conversion to cut the deficit to 17-10.
A hectic period followed in which the game swung from one end to the other. Ben Youngs began it by turning defence into attack with a grubber from his 22 that he fielded. Youngs hacked into the Saracens 22 where the chasing Sione Kalamafoni overturned Jackson Wray. As Tigers swept forward, Tom Youngs knocked on and Farrell cleared into the Leicester half. Back came Tigers through May and Ford, whose kick ahead was collected by Goode and Saracens found touch.
But Tigers ensured they came away with further points when Will Skelton played Ben Youngs as he picked up and Ford landed the penalty.
Tigers trailed 17-10 at the break.
The second half was less than two minutes in when Bosch took on a penalty from inside his own half. But the Argentina international miscued his kick short and wide.
Farrell made no mistake a few minutes later when he punished a high tackle by Mike Fitzgerald with three points for the visitors.
And Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over with a drop goal moments later to extend the Saracens lead to 23-10 after 50 minutes.
A clever kick by Ford allowed May to pressure Alex Goode and Maitland, and they got in each other’s way in dealing with the ball and conceded the 5m scrum.
Tigers were awarded three successive penalties as Mako Vunpiola infringed at the set-piece. And when he infringed a fourth time referee Carley went under the posts for a penalty try but, although Sarries were on a warning, there was no card. It left Tigers 23-17 down.
Tigers failed to deal with the restart and Saracens gathered possession. It was all hands to the pump for Tigers, but Kitchener strayed offside in defence and Farrell landed his penalty to move the visitors more than a score ahead.
Tatafu Polota-Nau came on for the final quarter for his first Aviva Premiership appearance at Welford Road.
Saracens threatened again when their heavy ball carriers sucked in the Leicester defence but Bosch knocked on with Maitland unmarked on his outside. Tigers won another penalty at the scrum but, again, no card was produced by referee Carley.
However, he did produce a second yellow card, and with it a red card, for Jonny May with 11 minutes remaining. Michael Rhodes offloaded out of Toomua’s tackle and May knocked on as he tried to grab the ball. Referee Carley, in consultation with his TMO, deemed it worthy of a second yellow and May was sent from the field.
Farrell kicked the penalty to give Sarries a 29-17 lead.
Vunpiola was finally shown a yellow card for a fifth scrum penalty against him with seven minutes remaining.
From the penalty lineout, Polota-Nau was stopped just short and Hamilton was held up over the line. Richard Barrington came on for Chris Wyles for the resulting scrum.
Tigers were awarded a free-kick at the set-piece, which Ben Youngs looked to run. However, he was pulled back by the assistant Paul Dix for tapping the ball with his knee and with it went Tigers’ final opportunity for points.