Leicester Tigers were beaten 24-13 after a Saracens fightback in the final quarter of a Gallagher Premiership Round 13 contest on Saturday lunchtime.
Chasing only a third win in 12 visits to the Allianz in North London, Tigers conceded the opening points from a converted try by Alex Lewington but were still in the game at half-time as two Tom Hardwick kicks cut the gap to 7-6.
Then a try from Ben White, bursting through after good work from the forwards, put Tigers in front.
It was a lead the visitors held for just seven minutes, though, as Dom Morris scored after a yellow card for Telusa Veainu and Lewington added his second to push the hosts clear.
The Tigers selected a heavyweight pack with Nephi Leatigaga, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Joe Heyes into the front row of a team led by Sione Kalamafoni, while Saracens welcomed prop Mako Vunipola after his release from the England squad.
Saracens got the game started with Tigers looking regimented in possession and keen in defence in the opening minutes in their own half, though two over-hit kicks in behind the Sarries line ran dead on the artificial pitch, bringing play back up to halfway.
Tommy Reffell earned an important turnover on the floor as Sarries established their first phases, but then Tigers lost fly-half Johnny McPhillips with just eight minutes played.
Hero of the home win over Worcester in Round 12 after appearing from the bench in the opening minutes following injury to Noel Reid, McPhillips was hurt in contact and left the field after treatment to his right knee. Tom Hardwick came on at 10.
Second-row partners Joe Batley and Will Spencer were heavily involved in the defensive work, with the former halting Sarries progress as he made a hit on Richard Wigglesworth on the edge of the away team’s 22.
But it was the home side who got the first points on the board as a penalty on halfway gave them a chance to gain territory down the left and set up a score for Alex Lewington.
Tom Woolstenholme was heavily involved, taking play on from the lineout and then it was a process of putting ball through hands until wing Lewington hit a gap to run in on the right. Manu Vunipola added the kick for a seven-point lead on 18 minutes.
Tigers almost created a reply with a smart lineout move involving skipper Kalamafoni and White which set Holmes clean through, only to hear the whistle from referee JP Doyle for a not-straight throw.
Mako Vunipola was penalised at the resulting scrum and Hardwick landed the kick to get Tigers on the board with 25 minutes played.
Holmes then had to act smartly to read a grubber kick from Brad Barritt before Saracens centre Dom Morris could latch on to it. Just 20 metres out from the Tigers posts.
Back on the attack, Spencer made a superb charge up the middle, knocking off the first tackler and then taking on the final man in contact before being taken to the floor two a couple of metres short of the tryline. When Sarries were caught offside as the ball was recycled, Hardwick chipped the kick over to make it 7-6 at half-time.
The second half began with Saracens on the ball and Tigers again working hard in defence just inside their own half and Lewington threatened again as he broke down the right before being closed down.
Play came back, though, for a penalty on the left and the visitors were pushed back into their own 22 until Leatigaga showed his value over the ball, frustrating Saracens and winning a penalty.
More good work on the ball, this time from Kalamafoni, won more turnover ball and Batley broke 40 metres upfield, handing-off Wigglesworth before being tackled just inside opposition territory.
A lineout steal from Harry Wells gave Tigers valuable ball and moments later they took the lead with White’s excellent score.
The attack began on the centre-spot with Joe Heyes popping ball for Spencer to carry on and when White arrived on his shoulder the scrum-half sprinted to the line, with Lewington in pursuit. Hardwick added the kick to make it 13-7 to the visitors.
Bodies lying on the ball, though, cost Tigers a penalty as Saracens got back upfield and fly-half Vunipola kicked the three-pointer to trim the deficit.
Moments later, Telusa Veainu was sin-binned as he was penalised for a deliberate knock-on as Barritt looked for support in attack. And the loss was compounded by a second Saracens try, this time from centre Dom Morris after some patient work just a few metres short of the tryline. The conversion from Vunipola made it 17-13 on 62 minutes.
Calum Green made his return from injury as a replacement for Batley but the reigning Premiership champions were threatening to add more pain as they attacked down the left and then took play almost up to the line before wing Rotimi Segun knocked-on.
Despite the error, Tigers remained pinned back as Veainu returned for the final 12 minutes and Lewington grabbed his second score as he wriggled free on the left. Vunipola’s conversion made it 24-13.
Sarries were still looking for a bonus-point try and almost had it as Ben Spencer kicked loose ball upfield and Ali Crossdale added the final touch. Referee JP Doyle wanted to check for a potential knock-on and, after checking, chalked it off.
A tap penalty from White almost found a breakthrough for Tigers, but when they were closed out, the whistle went for another penalty. This time, Saracens wrapped up ball in the corner through monster lock Will Skleton in the final action of the game.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
The home side may have come away with the points in this hard-fought encounter, but the scoreline doesn't tell the full story of a gutsy display from Geordan Murphy's men this afternoon.
Thank you to all of those who supported the team at Allianz Park in this one, and to all of you following along using Matchday Live.
Tigers' next game is away to Exeter Chiefs on Saturday, March 21 (3.00pm). We'll see you next time.
FULL TIME | 24-13
Tigers go down 24 points to 13 at the reigning Gallagher Premiership champions.
LAST BITE OF THE CHERRY
Hardwick puts Tigers into the corner for a last-minute throw, but Skelton reaches in to wreck the Leicester maul and that's the game.
UP TO THE LINE
A Hardwick touchfinder and a White tap-and-go have Tigers right up to the Saracens line as the clock ticks down at Allianz Park.
Tom Whiteley replaces Saracens No10 Manu Vunipola.
Replays show Spencer nudging the ball forward, but the home crowd show their displeasure as the try is chalked off...
TMO | POSSIBLE SARACENS SCORE
A loose pass in the Tigers midfield comes back for Ben Spencer, but we'll check with TMO Graham Hughes for a possible knock on...
Tom Hardwick takes the ball into contact, but Will Skelton picks up man and ball - and keeps him there. Referee Doyle calls the ball unplayable.
Harry Simmons is on to the field, as he replaces Rory Hughes on the wing.
Lamositele finds some space between two Tigers defenders and crashes through the hole, but the Barbarians-style offload is nowhere near his support runner, and Leicester are off the hook.
BATTLE IN THE AIR
White and Lewington clash awkwardly in the air as they get under a Ben Spencer-box kick, but referee Doyle calls for play to continue.
TWO TIGERS CHANGES
Tonga pair Sione Kalamafoni and Telusa Veainu are off the field, replaced by Ifereimi Boladau and George Worth, respectively.
Manu Vunipola adds two more from the tee, and Saracens now lead 24 points to 13.
SARACENS SCORE IN THE CORNER
Saracens pull the ball this way and that to work the overlap on the left, and it's Lewington who stretches out to score in the corner under pressure from Holmes.
BACK TO 15
Veainu returns from his sin bin, and Tigers are back up to their full complement.
LOST IN CONTACT
The Men in Black keep hammering the Leicester line, but find only a locked door - with Greg Bateman ripping the ball and securing posession on his own five-metre line.
White makes up for his error with a strong kick from the back of the ruck, to pin the home side back once more.
A hairy moment as Ben White looks to shepherd the ball into touch - only for the bounce to bring it back in field, just in front of Segun on the far side.
The scrum-half manages to scramble the ball off the field of play, but it gives Sarries a great platform in the corner.
Tigers keep possession of the ball from their scrum, and Hardwick finds touch just inside the ahlfway line to relieve pressure for now.
Mako Vunipola's afternoon comes to an end, as he is replaced by Richard Barrington.
The Tigers defence is on red alert once more as Saracens push up into the final quarter fot he field, but Segun knocks on and we'll scrum down.
Calum Green makes his first appearance since early January as he replaces Joe Batley in the Tigers front row.
RHODES FOR CLARK
Calum Clark is replaced by Michael Rhodes.
Vunipola adds a simple conversion, and Sarries have the lead back.
Saracens have a second score on the hour, as Dom Morris dives over after his team-mates batter the door down.
YELLOW CARD | TELUSA VEAINU
Saracens break away down the right hand side of their attack but, it comes to an end as Telusa Veainu knocks the ball on in an attempt to intercept the last pass.
The full-back is shown yellow for the infringement.
Greg Bateman replaces Nephi Leatigaga on the Tigers side.
Ben Spencer, Jack Singleton and Titi Lamositele are all on to the field for the home side.
Vunipola adds three points to Saracens' tally with a peanlty shot.
INTO THE RED ZONE
Saracens are quickly back into the Tigers 22, though, as they charge down a Hardwick kick and make the most of their advantage.
Holmes suddenly finds himself with the ball once more as it's lost forward ... but play is brought back and handed to Saracens.
Joe Heyes looks to have hurt himself in the lead-up to the score, and he's replaced by Dan Cole.
Hardwick makes no mistake with the conversion, and Tigers lead by 13 points to seven.
WHITE FINISHES TEAM TRY
Brilliant inter-play puts Will Spencer through a gap in the Sarries defence, and he feeds Ben White to dash in for a Tigers score. Superb.
Jake Kerr replaces Tatafu Polota-Nau in the middle of the Tigers front row.
There's another peep on Doyle's whistle, this time for contact from Hughes with his opposite number as he goes searching for the high ball on the left.
Saracens kick into the Tigers 22 ... but the visitors win the ball back, and Hardwick hammers them back up field.
BIG, BAD, BATLEY
Tigers turn the ball over again, and this time Joe Batley spots a hole in the Saracens guard and he crashes through, fending off Wigglesworth for good measure as he gets up over half way. Huge.
Harry Wells disrupts the lineout once again, but Saracens manage to keep possession and go to the right.
The Tigers back-rower is back in action on the far side as he gets over the ball, but he's called off by referee Doyle ... only for Leatigaga to get his hands on the ball (legally) at the next ruck! Nice work.
A bloodied Manu Vunipola puts the home side into the corner for the first time in this half.
Saracens find another gear as they test the right-hand side of the Tigers defence this time around, though they spill the ball.
We're called back for penalty advantage from the last ruck, where Kalamafoni was judged to have played No9 Richard Wigglesworth.
OVER THE HEAD
The home side find some space in behind Rory Hughes with a kick of their own, and the wing is back on his heels as his chases the ball into touch, and then throws quickly to Telusa Veainu.
The full-back takes contact to give his support time to get back and reset.
WHITE CLEARS UP
Saracens make an early half-break into the Tigers half, but Will Spencer is there to dislodge the ball - and Ben White clears up with a neat box kick.
SECOND HALF UNDERWAY
Tom Hardwick kicks us off in the second half against Saracens.
HALF TIME | 7-6
Just a point separates the two teams as they head into the dressing rooms for half time.
Will Spencer and Joe Heyes combine in a huge hit on Joel Kpoku in midfield, and that's the half done and dusted.
ON THE FLOOR
But Saracens win a penalty of their own at the ruck, and call on Gallagher to put boot to ball in the final play of the half.
Saracens are penalised for a skewed throw of their own at the next lineout, and Tigers turn the screw from the ensuing scrum as Hughes comes off his wing, looking for the ball.
Sarries' eyes light up as they spot Harry Wells out on the wing at the restart, and aim for him with the high ball ... but it's their error as play comes back in field that means we'll restart with a Tigers scrum.
Hardwick points to the posts as Saracens give away a penalty on their own line, and his successful kick brings Tigers back to within a point.
Rotten luck for Tigers as Kyle Eastmond slips as the backs move from the lineout, but Will Spencer gathers and breaks through the Saracens defenders with a heavy duty run all the way up to the tryline! Great play.
OVER THE BALL
Nephi 'the turnover machine' Leatigaga gets over the ball once again, this time on halfway, and gives Hardwick a great opportunity to pin Saracens into their own 22.
NOT THIS TIME
Joe Thomas is called upon in defence as Saracens captain Brad Barritt attacks the 13 channel, but the Tigers centre downs his man.
Will Spencer climbs highest to steal a Saracens lineout in the Tigers half, and even though the ball is turned over a pahse later Rory Hughes is there to clear up possession.
Tigers go to their forwards again as they defend a Sarries lineout on the fringes of the 22, and the home side are forced to bring their backs into the game once more.
FROM THE BASE
Kalamafoni gets a head of steam up from the back of another solid scrum, but the ball is ripped by Barritt.
Sarries play up to the Tigers 22, but give away possession of their own and Hardwick pins them back.
ON THE BOARD
Tom Hardwick adds three from the tee to get Tigers on to the scoreboard in this game.
But the men in fluoro-red show their physical presence again at scrum-time, as they start to rumble over the mark and through Saracens ... only for Doyle to call play back again for 'advantage over'.
No bother. Hardwick goes for goal.
PLAY BROUGHT BACK
Jonah Holmes had a run to the line, then! Polota-Nau's long throw finds Ben White at the back of the lineout, and he feeds the wing through a hole in the Saracens defence ... but Doyle brings play back before he can dot down.
The black shirts press hard as Tigers win their first piece of possession for a couple of minutes, but the suffocating pressure forces Hardwick to opt for another kick downfield.
Sarries' return is taken brilliantly in the air by - we think - Lewington, and the home side have the ball back in Tigers' half.
Manu Vunipola adds the extras from the tee, and Saracens lead by seven points to nil.
LEWINGTON DIVES OVER
Saracens pull the trigger off the back of a set piece move, and it's Alex Lewington who dives over for the score.
Ben White keeps hold of the ball as referee JP Doyle resets a scrum on Tigers' 22 ... but it's quickly out and downfield as Telusa Veainu spots some space in behind the black line.
The home side turn on their power game as they put their forwards into space inside the Tigers half, and right up to the five-metre line.
But hooker Tom Woolstencroft knocks on ... and then they double down on their error when Joe Batley forces another error just moments later.
Ben White and Tom Hardwick combine to pin Sarries back in their own half, but some neat inter-play from full-back Matt Gallagher to wing Rotimi Segun makes them a few metres on the enarside.
This heavy Tigers forward unit get another rumble on at scrum-time, pushing Saracens off their own ball as No8 Calum Clark loses control at the base.
Sarries go quickly off the back of their set piece, but the last pass goes begging as Kyle Eastmond disrupts the move. We'll restart with a Tatafu Polota-Nau throw ... and he finds Joe Batley at the lineout.
CHANGE AT 10
Tom Hardwick is on to the field, replacing Johnny McPhillips at fly-half for Tigers.
Tough luck for Tigers as the next stab through bounces dead again, and this time we'll pause as McPhillips receives a bit of treatment.
The Tigers pack hold strong at the shove but scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth still digs the ball out for his backs ... though Saracens give away a penalty on the floor in the next phase to give McPhillips a kick to touch.
Tigers make a half break through the Saracens line via big man Nephi Leatigaga - starting at loosehead prop in Round 13 - and he's not held, so make a couple more metres.
But the kick through afterwards bounces dead on the artificial surface, and there's an early scrum on halfway.
TO THE SKY
A cagey affair so far, as both teams look to feel each other out with some early kicks ... but Jonah Holmes climbs highest to pluck one out of the air on his own 22, and feeds fly-half Johnny McPhillips to pin Sarries back.
HERE WE GO!
Manu Vunipola kicks off for Saracens, and we're underway at Allianz Park.
ON TO THE FIELD
Both teams take to the Allianz Park surface...
FIVE MINUTES TO GO
Sione Kalamafoni leads Tigers back into the dressing rooms as Tigers complete their final warm-up ahead of this one.
Just moments to go until kick off.
CONFIRMED TEAM NEWS
Sione Kalamafoni will lead out Leicester Tigers at Saracens on Saturday in Round 13 of the Gallagher Premiership campaign.
Tonga international Kalamafoni captains the side from No8, alongside Harry Wells and Tommy Reffell in the Tigers back row.
And there are changes in the tight five of the pack, too, as Nephi Leatigaga, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Joe Heyes all step up to the starting XV.
Johnny McPhillips – scorer of the winning points in last Saturday’s triumph over Worcester Warriors – and Joe Thomas make their first Premiership starts in the backline, while Rory Hughes joins the back three alongside internationals Jonah Holmes and Telusa Veainu.
Calum Green returns from a facial injury to take a place among the replacements for his first appearance since January’s bonus-point win over Bristol Bears.
Saracens make nine changes following a win at Northampton last time out, and include prop Mako Vunipola after his release from the England squad.
See the full match line-ups by clicking here, or scrolling down on this page.
MINDSET VITAL TO WIN AT SARACENS, SAYS NEPHI
Tigers front-rower Nephi Leatigaga insists mindset will be critical if the visitors are to compete with the reigning league champions this afternoon.
“Away games are always about your mindset,” he told LeicesterTigers.com. “If we play how we know we can play and take our game to them, it should be a good fight.
“We know they’ve got some big players – the same as us. We need to make sure we match them up front.”
And while some commentators may have highlighted the teams’ position at the foot of the Premiership table, Leatigaga insisted the ‘Saracens situation’ has not been discussed in the lead-up to this weekend’s game.
He added: “We’re not really fussed about all of that stuff. We’re not thinking about it.
“They’re just another team, another week and another game, and we’re going there for a good battle.”
Read more of Leatigaga’s chat with LeicesterTigers.com here.
WHITE TALKS TERRITORY AHEAD OF SARACENS CLASH
Controlling territory on a fast Allianz Park pitch will be key to Leicester Tigers’ hopes against reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens this afternoon, according to scrum-half Ben White.
“Last week against Worcester, we knew that winning the territory and controlling where we were playing was going to be important,” he said.
“Saracens are probably one of the best teams at it. They kick the ball a lot, controlling the territory of a game, and you almost have to match them at that.
“You don’t want to play too much rugby in your own half because it plays into their hands.”
Read more of White’s Round 13 preview on LeicesterTigers.com, right here.
MATCH PREVIEW | TIGERS AT ALLIANZ PARK
Both Tigers and Saracens go into this Premiership game with three wins each in their last six rounds of league action.
But Mark McCall’s men only sit bottom of the table through their well-publicised salary-scandal points deductions, with eight wins from their 12 games so far this season.
The two clubs have met on 90 previous occasions with Leicester winning 56, to 28 by Sarries and six games drawn. Tigers have won twice in 11 previous trips to the Allianz, in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2017 and in the Premiership in February 2018.
See all the important facts and stats in our full match preview here, or scroll down on this page.
WELCOME TO MATCHDAY LIVE!
We’re LIVE from Allianz Park for Round 13 of the Gallagher Premiership, as Leicester Tigers take on Saracens (1.00pm).
Follow all the action as it happens with our Matchday Live coverage, right here on the Tigers App and LeicesterTigers.com.