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.
It's all over
And referee Karl Dickson calls time here at Welford Road and a spirited Tigers side is not enough as Saracens claim the 22 - 27 victory.
Thanks to all those who made the journey to Welford Road and we hope you have a safe journey home.
Ben White breaks from the scrum and runs at the Sarries defence. He finds Holmes on the wing but are held up by Saracens.
The play moves across the pitch and is held up in the breakdown before Saracens win a penalty for the ball not being released. That could be that.
It's a change in the front row as Facundo Gigena and Gaston Cortes come on from Dan Cole and Greg Bateman.
Matt Gallagher enters the field for Saracens Schalk Burger at 7.
Tigers chase the ball after Tom Hardwick's restart. After winning the breakdown, Tigers regain possession and have the ball on the half-way line.
Ben White works the ball out, but it's a knocked on by Facundo Gigena. A break in play as Schalk Burger receives treatment.
Sarries add to their lead
Ben Spencer kicks the points with less than five minutes left at Welford Road.
Harry Wells is caught offside and Ben Spencer with the chance to kick the penalty from ten yards out.
Tigers hold firm from the restart, but Saracens advance into the Tigers half. Hardwick kicks a long ball but Sarries come straight back at Tigers.
Tigers are defending their five metre line as the Sarries forward look to work an opening.
Tigers fly-half Joe Ford makes way for Tom Hardwick as we head into the last ten
And another for Tigers!
Matt Smith picks up a loose ball after some great work from the Tigers midfield and goes over in the left corner. The crowd enjoyed that one!
Joe Ford misses the conversion but Tigers are back in this.
Ford adds the kick
Joe Ford makes the kicking and closes the gap for Tigers with the scores at 17 - 15. Just over ten minutes left at Welford Road.
It's Joel Kpoku coming on for Saracens for Will Skelton in the second row for Saracens.
IT'S A TIGERS TRY
Brendon O'Connor gets his second try of the game straight from the penalty and Welford Road erupts in the 67th minute,
Sarries down to 13 - yellow card
It's Saracens forward Schalk Burger who is shown the yellow card repeat penalties from the Tigers line-out as Tigers pile on the pressure in the right hand corner.
Sarries under pressure
'TIIIGERS' echoes around the stadium as Tigers press and advance onto the Sarries five metre line.
The ball breaks to Kyle Eastmond on the right flank but he's intercepted by the Saracens defender - but then ref calls an offside.
It's a Tigers line out metres from the Sarries try line.
Barrington comes back on for Hayden Thompson-Stringer following a blood injury.
Sarries yellow card
It's Saracens' Ben Earle who receives the yellow card but no penalty try for Tigers.
Sarries down to 14 and the volume turns up a notch at Welford Road.
Hayden Thompson-Stringer comes on for Richard Barrington at loosehead for Saracens.
Tigers break - penalty try?
After some neat work from the Tigers back line, Gareth Owen breaks the Sarries line and advances into the opponent's half.
As he looks to lay off on the inside to Brendon O'Connor , the Sarries defender knocks the ball down.
This is going to the TMO and the Welford Road crowd are making their voices heard.
Tigers Sam Harrison makes way for Ben White at scrum-half with just over sixty minutes played.
Tigers on the attack
Tigers hit Saracens quickly from the restart and advance onto the Sarries 22. Sam Harrison gets the team set, but Tigers are penalised as the ball carrier didn't release. A chance for Sarries to clear.
Ben Spencer kicks the penalty as Sarries extend their lead to 14 points just under the hour mark.
Tigers penalised for not rolling away
Sarries break and manoeuvre the ball into the centre of the field. Tigers are penalised in the breakdown for not rolling away and Ben Spencer opts to kick for goal from 15 yards out.
Harry Wells comes on for Graham Kitchener in the second row for Tigers.
Hisa Sasagi comes on for Christian Judge at tighthead for Saracens
Long ball game
It;s become a long ball game as both teams exchange kicks with Joe Ford finally finding touch as Saracens look to to build from the line out.
Tigers second row Mike Williams is replaced by Mike Fitzgerald.
End to end
Both teams exchange possession as they look to get a hold of the game. It's just in the Tigers half and Harrison kicks into touch. From the line-out, Tigers win possession and kick into the Sarries half.
The ball comes back at Tigers and it's another line-out this time in front of the team dugouts.
Replacements for Saracens are Tom Woolstencroft for hooker Christopher Tolofua and Dom Day comes off for Calum Clark in the second row.
Saracens press with the restart and the Tigers defensive line holds firm as Tigers kick to into touch.
Ford kicks the extras
Tigers scrum-half Joe Ford kicks the extras from the right flank to make the score Tigers 10 - 21 Saracens
Tigers flanker Brendon O'Connor goes over for Tigers as Tigers hard work is rewarded. Nearly ten minutes in and it's a great start from Tigers.
Keep on mauling baby
Tigers win a line out from the penalty and it's straight into a driving maul. The forwards push on and Tigers go over. It's Brendon O'Connor for Tigers!
It's another high tackle for Saracens as Harrison is caught. Tigers now on the Saracens five metre line. Joe Ford receives the ball and kicks to the left flank for Holmes to collect. But it falls loose and Tigers get another penalty.
Going through the phases
Tigers hard work with the ball finally pays off after Saracens are penalised at the breakdown for not rolling away. Tigers penalty on the Sarries 22 and Tigers kick for the line out.
Tigers win the line out and form a driving maul. Harrison gets the ball out and Tigers sweep across the pitch. Tigers forwards are working the short game as Tigers attack the Robin Hood Stand.
Tigers press the kick from Ford as the floodlights light up Welford Road. They are forced back in their own half but win a penalty as the Saracens prop Richard Barrington is penalised for not rolling away. Harrison kicks into touch on the left flank.
Tigers kick off the second half
Joe Ford gets Tigers back underway as Tigers trail by 18 points,
Tigers 3 - 21 Saracens HT
Tigers respond in closing minutes
Tigers react gaining the yards in the Saracens half as they look to regroup. The ball moves back and forth through the phases and Tigers forwards keep advancing.
But it's knocked on and Saracens can clear their lines, bringing the first half to a close. It's Tigers 3 - 21 Saracens at half-time.
Tigers skipper Tom Youngs comes off for Jake Kerr following a collision with team mate Dan Cole.
Ben Spencer adds the extra's extending Saracens lead to 21 points.
Sarries go over again
It's another try to Saracens almost straight from the restart. Saracens work it well down the right and wing Alex Lozowski turns from provider to finisher running half the length of the pitch to go over.
And it's two out of two for the Saracens scrum-half who kicks over to make the lead 3 points to 14 with half an hour gone.
Tigers full-back George Worth is replaced by Matt Smith following a collision with Dan Cole. The ball is looped into the air and Worth catches but collides with his team mate.
There's a resulting scrum and Saracens break down the right hand side. Max Malins breaks from the line and sprays a long pass out to wing Alex Lewington who heads to the right side of the posts.
Saracens extend their lead and Ben Spencer steps up to add the extras.
Worth down after the restart
George Worth is down following a coming together of players following the restart. The full-back caught the ball and collided with Dan Cole. He's coming off and Tigers centre Matt Smith will replace him.
Tigers captain Tom Youngs is forced off following a collision with team mate Dan Cole, who lands on the hookers knee after they both go in for the tackle. Jake Kerr is his replace.
Spencer kicks for the conversion. Tigers 3 - 7 Saracens.
It's a breakaway for Saracens as scrum-half Ben Spencer intercepts a chip by Joe Ford and runs the length of the Welford Road pitch.
He goes over in the right corner and Saracens take the lead. Tigers 3 - 5 Saracens.
Tigers under pressure
From the restart Saracens come again ans fashion a line-out deep in the Tigers half. The set-piece falls to Sam Harrison who kicks clear.
Saracens come at Tigers again and find a break in the line. The Sarries forwards are gaining the yards as they edge closer to the Tigers tryline. Tigers get a break as the ref spots a knock on and Welford Road breathes a sigh of relief.
After some tidy work down the left flank, Sarcens lose the ball on the Tigers 22 and there's more shouts of a high tackle on George Worth by Saracens wing Alex Lewington.
Tigers play on with advantage but lose the play and the ref pulls it back. Penalty to Tiger and we're back in the Sarries half.
The ball leaves the scrum and Tigers advance into the Saracens half. After trading kicks, Gareth Owen picks up the ball and charges into the Saracens line. Shouts of a high tackle from the Welford Road crowd.
Tigers gain possession from the breakdown and move the play to the left flank and Joe Ford tries the drop goal...but it's wide. Sarries get play back underway.
Knock on Saracens
From the line out, Tigers advance and chase Harrison's kick but Saracens claim possession and work the play across the pitch.
But Alex Goode knocks on for Saracens in the centre of the pitch and it's a Tigers scrum on the half-way line.
Tigers defence holds firm
Tigers under the kosh and it's Greg Bateman who holds up the play as Saracens are penalised for not releasing.
The Tigers crowd cheer and the team move up the pitch as fly-half Joe Ford clears.
Ball in Tigers half
Saracens ease the pressure off playing the ball in the Tigers half. The Tigers defence is being tested as Sarries creep forward.
It's another no try call from the referee. Owens deemed to play the ball off his feet and Sarries clear their lines.
Tigers yards from the line - and over?
Tigers break from the scrum and work the ball across the pitch. Right then left, then right again and Kyle Eastmond finds space and passes to Gareth Owen.
The centre spins on the wing but is held up before going over the line. The ref goes to the TMO.
No try - inconclusive
Karl Dickson calls 'no try' after there's no conclusive grounding of the ball.
Five metre scrum for Tigers.
TIGERS BREAK AND TRY?
Jonah Holmes runs the length of the pitch following the line-out. Tom Youngs picked up the ball after the ruck and found Holmes in space.
Steps back inside of Sarries 10 Max Malins and is tackled at the line? The referee looks to the TMO.
The play moves back to the half-way line as Tigers work the ball across the pitch. Some great forward play from Dan Cole but Sarries get the turn over and chip into touch for a Tigers line-out.
It's scrum time
Both teams set for the scrum and Sarries collapse the scrum giving Joe Ford the chance to kick to touch.
Tigers move up to their own 22.
Tigers on their own tryline
Tigers under pressure following the driving maul and get within five metres, but referee Karl Dickson spots a knock-on from Will Skelton. Tigers penalty and the choose to scrum.
Saracens win the penalty after the kick off and opt for a line-out. Tigers penalised for an offside from Adam Thompstone.
And Joe Ford kicks for the first points of the afternoon. Tigers lead 3 points to nil.
Tigers continue to press as scrum-half Sam Harrison keeps the phases going. Tigers forwards working hard to win the breakdown and Joe Ford chips for Worth to follow.
But the ref pulls it back for a penalty for Tigers for not rolling away. Joe Ford with the chance to kick Tigers first points from 10 yards out.
Tigers kick and chase
After both teams trade long range kicks George Worth chases his own kick at wins the tackle in the Sarries half. Tigers on the attack in the Sarries 22.
We're underway at Welford Road as Saracens Alex Goode kicks us off.
Tigers are attacking the Mattioli Woods Stand.
Welford Road welcomes out both teams
The Welford Road crowd make themselves heard as the team make their way out onto for kick-off.
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Welcome from Welford Road
Gallagher Premiership rugby returns to Welford Road today with the visit of Saracens and you can catch all the action with Matchday Live.
We'll be bringing you live updates as they happen from today's game which kicks off in half an hours time (3.00pm).