Leicester Tigers were beaten 29-21 by Saracens in the opening game of the Premiership Rugby Cup at Allianz Park on Saturday.
The lead changed hands throughout the first half, with Joe Ford kicking three penalties for Tigers before a try from No8 Sione Vailanu gave the hosts a 13-9 advantage at the interval.
A try from Joel Kpoku early in the second half stretched that advantage despite some forceful defence from a young Tigers pack and the lead reached 26-9 before David Feao and then Harry Wells scored to keep a young Tigers team in the contest right into the closing stages.
Tigers included 12 academy graduates in the matchday squad – 11 in the starting team – and recalled Telusa Veainu after injury in a team captained by scrum-half Ben White.
Veainu’s afternoon, though, lasted only 15 minutes as he suffered an ankle injury in a tackle in one of his first touches of the ball.
Tigers won 28-20 on their last visit to Saracens territory, on league duty, back in February and the last three meetings have all been won by the away team on the day.
And it was the visitors who got on the scoreboard first in this opening game in the new-look cup competition ,with Ford landing a 35-metre penalty after strong work by the forwards at a lineout on the left with less than three minutes played.
Sarries responded with possession around the Tigers 22, but defensive line-speed twice forced them into errors until strong work on the floor from lock Joel Kpoku won a penalty which led to their breakthrough try.
After pushing the kick to touch on their left, the Sarries forwards secured ball and kept their patience as they set up a drive, pausing more than once before veteran Schalk Burger reached out to score. Max Malins was just wide with the kick as they led 5-3.
A counter-attack from Matt Gallagher then threatened on the Tigers right before Tommy Reffell got back to force the knock-on.
Veainu’s shift ended when he needed lengthy physio treatment when his left ankle appeared to get caught at the bottom of the tackle and he was carried off, to be replaced by Jonah Holmes.
Play restarted with a Sarries scrum but their loosehead side went to the floor and referee Christophe Ridley awarded the penalty in Tigers’ favour. Ford’s kick from 30 metres out made it 6-5 to the visitors on 16 minutes.
The Saracens forwards attacked the tryline almost immediately afterwards, making five pushes from close range, including two more from Burger, but they were repelled each time and finally knocked-on reaching out for the whitewash.
Thom Smith showed good control in picking up at the base of the five-metre scrum, allowing skipper White to kick clear.
But Sarries went in front again with a penalty from Malins when Reffell was whistled at the breakdown on his own 22.
They threatened even more from the restart when No8 Vailanu charged out of defence before Reffell and Harry Wells made a nuisance of themselves at the breakdown and won a penalty.
The roles were reversed seconds later when Matt Smith carried up to the Sarries 22, only for Burger to force the ball loose in contact.
Ali Crossdale’s break down the right wing after loose ball in midfield had Tigers scrambling across the field, but Jordan Olowofela forced him into touch as he reached the visitors’ 22.
Play was pretty loose but both sides looked determined to keep ball in play as much as possible despite the cold and windy conditions.
Burger was penalised as he rolled out of contact with Wells just after the half-hour mark and Ford, this time from the right-hand side, made no mistake with the kick to make it 8-9.
A charge from prop Titi Lamositele almost brought a scoring chance for Sarries but Tigers defended the line again and when Wells, Thom Smith and Jake Kerr swarmed at a breakdown, the move came to a halt with the referee’s whistle in their favour just five metres from the tryline.
Unfortunately, there was still time for Saracens to claim their second try after winning a penalty near halfway. They took play down the left and, from the lineout, No8 Vailanu broke free to score. Malins got his conversion attempt all wrong but his side led 13-9 at half-time.
Campese Ma’afu replaced David Feao in the Tigers front row at half-time and Tgers had an early penalty when the forwards pushed on from a lineout, just as they had at the start of the opening period. But they were wrapped up in possession from the lineout and Sarries had out-in at the scrum.
They won their first penalty at the set-piece and drilled the kick into the left-hand corner as Feao returned from his HIA protocols.
Tigers continued to defend bravely, with Cameron Jordan bringing Vailunu’s progress to a halt. But the hosts retained ball until Kpoku forced his way over for their third try of the day. Malins added the conversion to stretch the lead to 20-9 with 48 minutes gone.
Another scrum penalty kept Sarries in Tigers territory and they thought they’d got a bonus-point score through wing Elliott Obatoyinbo in the corner. But the referee checked the replays and confirmed a double movement, bringing play back for an offside penalty in front of the posts. Malins knocked over the kick to take his side two converted scores in front at 23-9.
Valentino Mapapalangi replaced Smith in the back row and quickly got hands on the ball as Tigers tried to launch a fightback.
They got a penalty from Mapapalangi’s opening carry but Ford was wide with the kick and Sarries quickly made Tigers pay for the escape when they won a penalty on the floor and Malins kicked his own three-pointer.
Mapapalangi looked like he’d made an instant response, taking ball from a lineout to bully his way into the right-hand corner. But the referee signalled ‘held up’ by Henry Taylor in the tackle and Tigers had to go back to a five-metre scrum.
Feao clamed his first Tigers try with a forceful run after an offload from Sam Lewis, and when Ford added the extras, the deficit was back to 10 points at 26-16.
But Tigers were guilty of attempting to force play soon after the restart and conceded another breakdown penalty 30 metres from their own line, which gave Malins another kicking opportunity. He made no mistake as he made it 29-16 with 13 minutes remaining on the clock.
Fred Tuilagi and Mapalaangi were prominent as Tigers looked for reward from possession in the Sarries 22, and it came with a score from Wells in the left-hand corner after He had set up the initial push with a lineout catch. Ford, from the touchline, was unable to add the extras with Tigers a point shirt of bonus-point range.
The scoreline made for a frantic closing period, and Saracens had a chance to go for a try bonus point in the last few minutes, only for Malins to misjudge his kick on the right and play the ball beyond the corner flag.
But Tigers were unable to find one more opening as Sarries wrapped up Olowofela in midfield to bring the game to a close.
Thank you to all the travelling supporters who braved the cold to join us at Allianz Park today, we hope you have a safe journey home and look forward to seeing you at Welford Road next week as we host Worcester Warriors.
Tigers are unable to score with the last play of the game and the score at the end of the game is 29-21.
Tigers with the ball from the lineout and look to get the ball out wide but Sarries hold us up in the tackle for the turnover and the referee blows the whistle for full-time.
Tigers win a penalty at the scrum and kick for the lineout on the half-way.
Tigers to Defend
Tigers with the restart but Sarries collect the ball and look to attack into the Tigers 22 but Sarries are penalised for a forward pass, Tigers scrum outside our 22.
Tigers look to have defended well but the referee penalises them for collapsing the maul, Sarries kick for the lineout but the ball goes dead for a Tigers restart.
Sarries with the ball look to go quick from the scrum and Tigers are penalised for a high tackle, Sarries kick for touch and the lineout on Tigers 22.
Joe Heyes is replaced by Campese Ma'afu.
Tigers with the ball from the lineout with a few phases and look to work it into Sarries half but are penalised for a forward pass, Sarries with the scrum in their half.
Restart and scrum
Saracens with the restart but there's a knock-on and Tigers get the scrum. Tigers with a big scrum and win the penalty, Ford kicks for the lineout on half-way.
Joe Ford pushes the conversion wide so it remains 29-21 after 72 mintues.
Tigers with the try as referee confirms Harry Wells dots down in the corner.
Tigers go hunting
Tigers with the ball at the lineout and as the ball goes to ground Harry Wells collects the ball and looks to score in the corner but the referee goes to the TMO.
Jake Kerr and Matt Smith are replaced by Tatafu Polota Nau and Gareth Owen.
Tigers build the phases from the lineout and working closer to the Sarries tryline but win a penalty. Ford kicks for the lineout.
Tigers get moving forward from the restart and into Sarries half, winning a penalty for Sarries offside Joe Ford kicks to touch to give Tigers the lineout in Sarries 22.
Saracens add the penalty through Max Malins to make it 29-16 after 66 minutes.
Side to Side
Tigers go side to side with the ball from the restart but Saracens win a turnover ball at the breakdown and point to the posts.
David Feao and Sam Lewis are replaced by Ficundo Gigena and Fred Tuilagi.
Tigers add the conversion through Joe Ford to make it 26-16 after 63 minutes.
Tigers with a few phases from the quick-tap before David Feao finds a gap to run in under the posts.
Tigers Go Quick
Tigers look to run the ball from the scrum and get the ball to the posts winning a penalty for offside. Tigers go quickly looking for the try.
Some reset scrums on Sarries 5 metre in the far corner as Tigers look to capitalise with the ball.
Tigers With the Ball
Tigers look good at the restart, winning a penalty at the breakdown they go for the corner. The lineout goes quick and Tino thinks he's scored by the referee says it is held up, Tigers scrum.
Saracens add to the score with the successful penalty to make it 26-9 after 57 minutes.
Saracens work the ball from the restart and get back into Tigers half, winning a penalty at the breakdown and they point to the posts.
Tigers look to bounceback from the penalty at the restart, Joe Heyes makes a good break and Tigers work the ball, winning a penalty. Joe Ford points to the posts but the ball goes wide.
Valentino Mapapalangi is now on the pitch to replace Thom Smith.
Saracens make the penalty through Max Mallins to make it 23-9 after 52 minutes.
Saracens think they've scored in the corner but the referee goes to the TMO and they say no try for double movement, they go back for an offside penalty and Sarries point to the posts.
Saracens On the Attack
Saracens look to build on their recent try and work the ball into Tigers 22 looking for their fourth try.
Saracens add the conversion through Max Mallins to make it 20-9 after 47 minutes.
Tigers defence looked good but Saracens work the phases and Joel Kpoku finds a gap to reach through to score.
Sarries look to go quick from the lineout and work the ball out to the posts and up to the 5 metre line but Tigers defence holding strong at the moment.
Tigers create the driving maul from the lineout and Saracens are penalised for collapsing it, Ford kicks for the lineout on the half-way.
We Kick, You Kick
Both sides look for territory early in this second-half and exchange kicks ahead, Saracens find touch for a lineout on Tigers 22.
Tigers with a half-time replacement as Campese Ma'afu replaces David Feao.
Kick-off for the Second-half
Saracens with the kick-off for the second-half.
The missed conversion is the last play of the half so it remains 13-9 at half-time.
Saracens conversion is pushed wide to keep the lead to four points as the referee blows the whistle for half-time.
Saracens go with a short lineout and Sione Vailanu finds space to run in the try.
Tigers show good work at the lineout and driving maul and get the ball out but Saracens win a penalty at the breakdown, they kick for the lineout on Tigers 22.
Tigers keep working as Saracens work the defence and get the ball up into Tigers 22 but some great tackles and Thom Smith is over the ball for a turnover. Joe Ford kick for the lineout on half-way.
The ball is messy at the lineout but Tigers keep the ball and work it forward but chip it ahead into Saracens half. Tigers defence looks good as they look to break through the ruck but Joe Heyes makes the tackle to keep him inside their own half.
Tigers win the ball at the lineout but are held up in the driving maul for a Sarries scrum and continue their momentum as they win a penalty at the scrum and kick to the corner for a lineout.
What a Steal
As Saracens run the ball out from the ruck Ben White runs behind them and intercepts a pass to give Tigers the ball, a chip ahead is collected and run back up to half-way. The ball is chipped ahead but goes into touch for a Tigers lineout on our 10 metre line.
Both teams try to build some phases from the restart, a few chip kicks but the rugby remains in between the two 10 metre lines but Tigers are held up in the tackle to give Sarries a scrum just inside their half.
Tigers add another penalty and take the lead with Joe Ford converting the penalty to make it 8-9 after 30 minutes.
Tigers look good as they build phases, Jonah Holmes steps some defenders on the wing to make some ground but as the ball is worked back in field Tigers win a penalty at the breakdown and Joe Ford points to the posts.
Both teams with some turnovers as the ball is back in Saracens half as Tigers look to build some phases in Saracens half.
It's messy at the lineout and as the ball goes to ground Saracens get a turnover and win a scrum between Tigers 22 and 10 metre line.
Saracens with the ball from the lineout, chip ahead but the ball is passed back and out to the wing where Sarries have space to run it back into Tigers half but there is a loose ball into touch for a Tigers lineout.
It looks like another huge scrum from Tigers who win the ball at the scrum and look to get it wide to Matt Smith who runs it up the wing but the referee calls it back to the scrum, Sarries ball.
Tigers look good with a few phases off the lineout but are penalised at the breakdown in front of the posts and Saracens get the scrum.
Saracens look to run the ball from the restart and find a gap to run it back into Tigers half but Harry Wells wins the turnover at the breakdown for a Tigers penalty. Joe Ford kicks to touch for a lineout on Saracens 22.
Saracens are in the lead with a penalty from Max Malins to make it 8-6 after 21 minutes.
Saracens go wide with the ball from the lineout and the ball goes loose but the referee penalised Tigers at the breakdown, Saracens point to the posts.
Tigers with a good defensive scrum and Thom Smith gets the ball out, Tigers with a few phases and Ben White with the clearing kick to touch.
Tigers with the put in but Saracens get the ball out of the scrum and run it wide, quick ball gets the ball up to Tigers tryline and it looks like they are over for a second try but the ball is knocked on, Tigers scrum.
Saracens get the ball at the restart and look to chip ahead into touch but the ball is caught by the wind and goes straight into touch for a Tigers scrum on the 10 metre line.
Joe Ford with the penalty to put Tigers back in front and make it 5-6 after 16 minutes.
Joe Heyes with pats on the back as Tigers have huge scrum and win a penalty, Joe Ford points to the posts.
Tigers are forced into an early replacement as Jonah Holmes replaces Telusa Veainu.
Tigers build some phases from the lineout and work the ball across the field, Telusa Veainu is keen to get his hands on the ball and manages to dodge defenders on the far wing but is brought down and Tigers are penalised at the breakdown.
Tigers and Saracens exchange a few kicks before Joe Ford shows some quick feet and breaks through the Saracens defence, a chip ahead is collected by Saracens and kicked to touch for a Tigers lineout in Saracens half.
From one end
To the other from the restart as Saracens look to attack again but as Saracens make a break there is a loose ball and Tigers win a scrum for a knock-on.
Saracens are unable to add the conversion so it remains 5-3 after 8 minutes.
Saracens with the first try of the afternoon through Schalk Burger, driving out from the maul to reach over the line for a try.
Tigers look good as they defend Saracens driving maul at the lineout but as they edge closer to the posts it looks like Saracens have driven over the line for a try.
Tigers look to use the backs and spread the ball wide from the scrum but as the ball is brought back across the pitch Tigers are penalised for holding on. Saracens kick for touch and get a lineout in Tigers 22.
Tigers go quick with the lineout and a chip ahead is collected by Saracens but the referee calls a forward pass to give Tigers the first scrum of the game.
On the defence
Saracens collect the ball at the restart and build phases up to Tigers 22 before a chip into the corner for a Tigers lineout.
Joe Ford converts the first points today with a penalty for Tigers to make it 0-3 after 3 minutes.
Tigers with an early lineout on half-way from Saracens clear-out and win a penalty in the driving maul, Joe Ford points to the posts.
Here We Go
Tigers get things underway through Joe Ford to start today's match.
Today we are at Allianz Park to take on Saracens in the Premiership Cup.