Saracens stretched their unbeaten start to the season with a 27-22 victory over Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Sunday, but only after a spirited fightback from the hosts.
In Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership season, Tigers led with a Joe Ford penalty but were then denied tries for Jonah Holmes and Gareth Owen after consultation between referee and the television official in an impressive early spell.
But Saracens then claimed three tries in a six-minute spell, all from long range, as Ben Spencer, Alex Lewington and Alex Lozowski scored to put them 21-3 in front at half-time.
Tigers looked like they were facing a long afternoon but then Brendon O’Connor scored from a lineout drive early in the second half and added a second in similar style with Sarries down to 13 men to bring it back to 17-24 with 10 minutes remaining on the clock and set up a fascinating finale.
In a dramatic closing period, Matt Smith grabbed another score to cut the deficit to just two points before a late penalty gave the visitors some daylight again on the scoreboard as they stretched an unbeaten league run which started back in March.
Both teams were missing their international contingent for the final weekend of the autumn period, with Tigers welcoming back Jonah Holmes. The New Wales cap was named at full-back but had to make a late switch to the wing when Jordan Olowofela dropped out, missing the matchday 23 for the first time this season. George Worth came in to wear the No15 shirt, with Matt Smith joining the bench.
The visitors got the game under way, kicking towards The Robin Hood Stand, but superb counter-rucking from Tigers and steal from Gareth Owen created early impetus and the home team held ball for the next three minutes, testing the famed Sarries defence until they were penalised under the posts in the 17th phase of play.
Ford kicked the penalty to put three early points on the board.
A dart from scrum-half Spencer almost gave Sarries an instant reply before the Tigers defence won a valuable turnover, with Graham Kitchener carrying out of the danger area.
But when Adam Thompstone was blown for starting in an offside position as Ford kicked clear, Saracens returned to attacking territory with a lineout on the left just eight metres out. After threatening the line through Schalk Burger and Will Skelton, though, they knocked-on at a ruck.
After Greg Bateman called for a replacement of his ripped shorts, the Tigers pack did a good job at the scrum, pressurising their rivals and getting the reward with a whistle from referee Karl Dickson.
After clearing their lines again, Tigers won ball on halfway and Tom Youngs put Holmes on a 50-metre turn to the line. He used his pace out wide and then cut inside to take on Lozowski virtually on the tryline. Referee Dickson asked the TMO ‘Try yes or no’ and the verdict came back that footage was inconclusive so play restarted with a close-range scrum.
Another strong carry from Youngs threatened the visitors' defensive line again and, when Sam Harrison took play to the left, Holmes was stopped just short again. Gareth Owen, though, picked up and dived over the tryline.
After consulting with the TMO again, the referee awarded a penalty against Owen for picking up in the ruck and Sarries kicked 30 metres upfield.
They started to look strong in possession too, until Bateman won a penalty on the floor after some good discipline in defence from the home team.
Kyle Eastmond sensed the chance for an interception as Sarries looked to go wide on the 20-minute mark, but when the men in red managed to keep hold, it was the centre who got back in line to make the tackle and force an error.
Big carries from Sione Kalamafoni and Youngs again gained good position for Tigers, but Ford was wide with a drop goal attempt as the score remained 3-0 in Tigers’ favour.
A high tackle on Worth as he covered in defence brought a penalty which Ford pushed up the left flank, but Saracens were able to turn defence into attack and claim their opening points as they blocked a chip through from Ford, and Ben Spencer ran away from well inside his own half to score in the corner. The scrum-half added the conversion to give them a 7-3 lead on 26 minutes.
Worth's afternoon ended when he clattered into team-mate Cole after claiming a Sarries kick, with Smith coming into the backline and Holmes reverting to full-back.
Sarries claimed another long-range score from a scrum, with Max Malins breaking through the Tigers backline and then throwing a long pass for Lewington to score on the left. Spencer added the kick to make it 3-14 on the half-hour mark.
Another try quickly followed, with Lozowski beating Owen out wide near halfway and then staying clear of the covering defence to score next to the posts despite a last-ditch tackle from Holmes. When Spencer chipped over the extras, Sarries were 18 points ahead.
They threatened again with Tigers a man down in defence as Youngs required treatment for a knee injury, but the home side stuck at it and were eventually relieved when Sarries knocked on.
Jake Kerr replaced Youngs in the front row, with Harrison taking over as captain, and Tigers were able to clear their lines when the Sarries front row collapsed the scrum.
Eastmond and Owen combined to force an error from Sarries, and Tigers took play back into opposition territory as they gained put-in at a scrum with the clock well into the final minute of the half.
But, after numerous phases, Tiger could find no holes in the visitors’ defence and went in at half-time 21-3 down on the scoreboard.
The second half began with Tigers in possession again and, after a penalty into the right-hand corner, Harrison threatened to burst through before being brought down by a high tackle.
From the penalty, Tigers went for a repeat and referee Dickson spoke to visiting skipper Brad Barritt after another infringement before the home side went to the corner for a third time.
On this occasion, there was no stopping the drive and O’Connor dotted down for his first try of the season with the rest of the pack pushing over. Ford struck the conversion well to make it 10-21.
It was just what Tigers needed, though Alex Goode’s restart gave Lewington ball in a promising position until the defence did its work and eventually kicked clear.
A Lozowski break on the wing spelled danger until scrambling defence took the visitors into touch just as they reached the 22 in front of the terrace.
Mike Fitzgerald replaced Mike Williams in the pack as play reached 55 minutes and he immediately claimed lineout ball, though the Sarries defence continued to bite into tackles in the middle third of the pitch and the game's flow was affected by a stop-start run of set-pieces.
When Owen was wrapped up on the ball on 58 minutes, Saracens fired the penalty down the right and they had the benefit of the whistle again 20 metres out as Tigers made another tackle. This time Spencer kicked the points to make it 10-24.
A superb catch from Harrison as Sarries miscued a clearing kick gave Tigers possession once more and Harry Wells made a burst into the line before the defence could recover. But when Sarries attacked the next breakdown, they won a penalty to relieve the pressure.
Harrison made way for Ben White as the game restarted and Tigers had a golden opportunity moments later when Owen made a slick break from halfway and, with support on his inside, Sarries replacement Ben Earl slapped the ball forward.
Referee Dickson, in consultation with his assistants and the TMO again, agreed it was a deliberate knock-on from Earl but considered the chance to be too far out - at around 25 metres - to give a penalty try, much to the despair of the home crowd.
Tigers stayed close to the line and had another penalty for offside just as Eastmond closed in. They went to corner again to set up another lineout drive on the five-metre line.
Sarries infringed at the set-piece too, with Burger sin-binned, and the response was immediate as the Tigers forwards raided towards the line and O’Connor scored again. Ford’s kick made it 17-24 and finally put Tigers back in reach of their rivals.
Seconds later, replacement Smith grabbed a dramatic score to raise the roof at Welford Road, latching on to Owen’s delicate kick in behind the defence.
Ford, with a chance to level the scores, saw his conversion kick drift wide of the near post.
Tigers had the wind in their sails but needed another opportunity at the right end of the pitch. Unfortunately, though, Sarries kept possession tight in the forwards from the restart and were awarded a penalty just a couple of metres out from the posts.
Earl was back on the field to take them up to 14 men as Spencer kicked the points to make it 22-27 and, despite a late break from White and Thompstone, they managed the final minutes in defence to ensure the victory.