Leicester Tigers returned home from Allianz Park empty-handed after losing 24-10 to defending Aviva Premiership champions Saracens on Saturday afternoon.
Despite conceding three tries in the opening 45 minutes, Tigers gave themselves hope of claiming a bonus-point when George Catchpole crossed with 14 minutes left. The try, his first in Leicester colours, cut the deficit to 14 points.
Tigers had Saracens under plenty of pressure in the closing stages, but were unable to find a way through the well-marshalled home defence.
Instead, Saracens claimed victory after scoring first-half tries through wingers Chris Wyles and Sean Maitland, before No8 Billy Vunipola finished a line-out drive early in the second-half to put daylight between the teams.
Jack Roberts came in for his first start of the season in place of the unlucky Matt Toomua, who has been ruled out for more than six months with a knee injury. Peter Betham partnered Roberts at centre with Mat Tait moving to full-back after injury to Telusa Veainu.
Graham Kitchener came in to replace Dom Barrow, who took a head knock in last week’s win over Racing 92.
Saracens, who were without their England second-row pairing of Maro Itoje and George Kruis due to injury, included former Tigers lock Jim Hamilton in their starting XV. He started alongside Michael Rhodes in the second row.
Quick Saracens line-speed had Tigers under pressure in their own 22, where Ben Youngs knocked-on as he tried to play out of trouble. Sarries moved the ball from the set-piece and Tigers turned over possession under their posts for Betham to clear.
Betham was quick to scoop up Mako Vunipola’s loose pass but then his ball to Adam Thompstone went to ground as he tried to force the position.
Saracens overturned possession at a Tigers lineout on the visitors’ 22 and swooped to score the opening try. Farrell opened up the field with his pass to Brad Barritt, who had Jackson Wray and Chris Wyles overlapping for the USA international to score at the left corner. Farrell converted.
Tigers looked for an immediate response and their first visit to the Sarries 22 was rewarded with a penalty. Tigers played the advantage and were close to earning their reward when Ben Youngs sniped through a gap and to within 8m of the line. However, he knocked on at the next ruck and play came back for the penalty, which Williams landed to put Tigers’ first points on the board.
Last-man Thompstone produced an excellent tackle to prevent Wyles going in at the corner in the 18th minute. Saracens piled forward and, with the advantage of an offside penalty on the Leicester line, Farrell slid a kick in-goal that beat Wyles into touch. However, Farrell landed the penalty to restore their seven-point lead.
Marcos Ayerza went off for a HIA before the restart to be replaced by Ellis Genge.
The Leicester line was breached in the 24th minute. Tigers were unable to realign when Goode returned Williams’s kick, and Maitland had room to step off his flank and ride the tackle to score on the right. Farrell’s conversion put Saracens 14-3 ahead.
At the other end Genge, now a permanent replacement, sent Lachlan McCaffrey into the Sarries 22 where Ben Youngs’s grubber beat Thompstone into touch.
Tigers fans were calling for knock-on when Goode failed to deal with an up-and-under inside his own 22. Instead, Wyles was allowed to counterattack and fired a kick behind the defence that JP Pietersen mopped up and cleared to touch.
Tigers were whistled for pulling down Hamilton at the lineout but Farrell’s kick struck an upright and Tait found touch on the 22 as Sarries led 17-3 at the break.
Sarries extended their lead with a third try early in the second half. Hamilton was again the target at the lineout and with Tigers unable to set themselves in defence, England international No8 Billy Vunpiola applied the finish. Farrell converted to move Saracens 24-3 ahead.
McCaffrey and Kitchener combined to open the Saracens defence, but Betham’s pass was finger-tipped into touch by a Sarries hand inside the 22. Tigers had to make do with the lineout, but were unable to make the position count as Billy Vunipola seized possession for the hosts.
A lineout on the opposite flank gave Tigers another attacking platform, but Saracens sacked the drive and came away with possession.
Saracens were happy for Tigers to have possession and to try force their way through. But the Sarries line-speed unsettled the visitors and forced mistakes, typified by a wayward pass by scrum-half Sam Harrison on Saracens’ 22 that resulted in Tigers conceding a holding-on penalty on halfway.
Farrell found the corner with his kick, but Tigers defended the drive well and eventually won the scrum put-in.
Mako Vunipola saw yellow for turning his shoulder into Freddie Burns after he had chipped ahead, as the clock ticked into the final quarter. However, Schalk Burger and Schalk Brits combined to win a holding-on penalty against fellow South African Pietersen as Tigers could find no way through.
Tigers did find a way through with 14 minutes remaining. It owed huge amounts to Burns’s dummy on his own 22 that created a gap for him to make ground up to halfway. McCaffrey and Harrison were in support and when the break was finally stopped on the 22, replacement winger George Catchpole joined the line to score on the left with his first touch. Williams converted to leave Leicester 24-10 behind.
Another break by Genge threatened a second try in as many minutes. However, Tigers were unable to retain possession and Logovi’i Mulipola was whistled for coming in at the side.
Tigers threw everything at at Sarries in search of the bonus-point, with Genge making carry after carry. But a scrum penalty allowed Farrell to ease the pressure with a huge touch-finder that to inside the Leicester half.
Tigers finished the game on the attack with a 5m lineout. Kitchener set up Will Evans on an arcing run and his inside pass almost put McGuigan over.
Play came back for a second successive penalty. Genge and Mulipola were asked to test the Sarries defence at close quarters, but a knock-on allowed Saracens to clear and prevent Tigers claiming a bonus-point.
HT ScoreHalf Time Score
SAR 17-3 LEI
FT ScoreFull Time Score
SAR 24-10 LEI
Draw with Bath Rugby 17-17Past Meeting
Draw with Brive null-nullPast Meeting