Leicester Tigers took a losing bonus point from a 34-27 defeat at Saracens on Saturday.
Trailing 22-13 at half-time after playing into a fierce wind in the opening period, Tigers fought back to trail by just two points and set up the prospect of a grandstand finish before the hosts made sure with the final score in the last minute of the game.
Sarries had slipped into third place in the table overnight following a Friday win for Harlequins, but took five points from their five-try haul to reclaim their place behind leaders Tigers.
Tigers had drawn first blood with a try from Eli Snyman but three tries in the second quarter of the game put Sarries into the driving seat as they led 22-13 at half-time.
They added another after the restart before tries from Nic Dolly and then Ollie Chessum chipped away at the lead in the first meeting of the two teams in north London since the start of lockdown in March 2020.
George Ford led out Tigers after his return during a fallow week in the Six Nations, with Ollie Chessum making his first club appearance as an international. Matt Scott and Matías Moroni started together in the midfield for just the second time this season.
Saracens had Andy Christie (Scotland), Nick Tompkins (Wales) and Elliot Daly (England) back in club colours during this fallow week in Six Nations action but lost captain Mako Vunipola to injury just three minutes into the game on a cold and blustery afternoon.
A penalty near halfway provided a first chance for the Tigers set-piece down the right and they were able to make steady progress as the referee’s whistle blew twice more until, finally, Snyman supplied the final push over the line for the day’s opening points.
Ford added the conversion for a 7-0 lead on 12 minutes and Tigers were back on the attack soon afterwards, only to lose ball on the floor in midfield.
But Sarries used the string wind at the backs – and the difficulties in kicking clear into it – to build a platform in possession.
Harry Potter showed good awareness to pick off a kick to the corner, but his kick up the line went out on the 22 and, when Sarries attacked again, Elliot Daly over-ran an inside pass from Lewington and ball was lost just 10 metres out from the tryline.
Chessum clawed ball back from a Sarries lineout and then Moroni led the defensive effort on the opposite touchline to keep out another dangerous attack.
But play came back for a penalty and this time Sarries managed to control the drive up to the tryine for hooker Tom Wolstencroft to score. Alex Lozowski added the conversion to level the scores midway through the first half.
Ford thumped a penalty against the post but Matt Scott followed up to retain ball and, although Tigers were held up over the line, play came back for another penalty and this time the fly-half kicked the points for a 10-7 lead.
But Sarries got front with a 10-point score just after the half-hour.
First, Lewington got on the end of a sweeping attack on the left and, when Kini Murimurivalu was sin-binned for his challenge in the act of the score, Lozowski followed the conversion with a penalty from the restart and suddenly the home side led 17-10.
A clash from the restart required physio treatment on each side but a push from Jackson Wray meant the verdict was a Tigers penalty.
When Lozowski was penalised as he fell on the wrong side of a tackle on the edge of the Sarries 22 after good work by Tigers hooker Nic Dolly, fly-half Ford kicked the three points.
But the reply was instant as Sarries reached the right-hand corner and Sean Maitland forced his way over. Lozowski was this time off-target with the kick but the hosts led 22-13 as half-time approached.
The second half started with a fourth Sarries try, playing with san advantage before putting prop Vincent Koch through to the tryline and the conversion made it 29-13.
But Tigers then built some strong phases of attack, using lineout ball in the right-hand with Potter staying on his feet to almost reached the line and then lineout ball on the right giving Scott and Moroni a chance to test the defence through the middle.
When the whistle went again, Tigers turned the screw and a big push ended with a try for Dolly. Ford judged a tricky conversion perfectly to trim the deficit to 29-20.
The home side lost scrum-half Aled Davies to a yellow card after a head contact with Ford, but the 14 men won a penalty in defence as Tigers threatened in front of the posts.
Ford kept up the pressure by belting a penalty into the left-hand corner and, when the drive got to within two metres of the chalk, the whistle went again but Sarries emerged with the next penalty still on their own line.
Play returned to that end of the field with another Ford penalty down the left after a high tackle on Scott, but again the home side were rewarded as Billy Vunipola contested the breakdown.
Scott was again on the ball in attack, looping around Nadolo to get Tigers forward, and Tigers remained on the front foot to add a third try.
First, Charlie Clare almost reached the line from a destructive maul, then Francois van Wyk and Nephi Leatigaga were just short. But Chessum was next to go and this time reached out for the try, which Ford converted to make it 29-27 with seven minutes to go.
Saracens, though, set up a score in reply with a lineout drive from a penalty on the left. After looking like their progress had stalled, they set again and Woolstencroft claimed his second of the day for a 34-27 lead.
The miss meant Tigers were still within seven-point range, but when the home side contested the restart, they won back ball and kicked out for take five points while Tigers had a one-point consolation as they retained top spot in the table.