Well it doesn’t happen too often so those who seek to win at Welford Road should get a copy of the DVD of this match as Saracens beat Leicester, writes Rugby World editor, Paul Morgan. Belligerence was the key. Leicester come at you like a steamroller and if you can survive the onslaught you give yourself a better than 50% chance winning. But few survive the onslaught as Saracens did, becoming the only side (since they did it themselves) to win a league game at Welford Road since Wasps did it in September 2008.
And I thought this was the day this Saracens team came of age.
Created by Brendan Venter the side is now being guided superbly by Mark McCall, who knows exactly how to create the sort of hard-headed philosophy you need to be successful in the Aviva Premiership. Super 15 it ain’t!
You have to win ugly in the regular season and play on the hard grounds and open spaces of the play-offs. Saracens confirmed to me today they can do part one. If they do part two as well they will be champions for the first time.
But don’t forget Leicester are masters at parts one and two and I still make them my clear favourites to become the first Aviva Premiership champions.
Before today they were so clear hardly anyone else was in the picture. After today Saracens are live contenders.
Leicester coach Richard Cockerill, obviously played down the significance when he spoke to the media after the game, citing the players he has to come back and their ability to win when it counts. He is right.
Of course Leicester will make the play-offs and of course they’ll have their England players back but playing Leicester no longer holds any fear for Saracens, which will make them very dangerous play-off opponents, as the Tiger chase a hat trick of English titles.
Saracens had the confidence and determination to stay in the match when they trailed 14-9 at the break. I’ve seen so many sides disappear at Welford Road but Saracens manned-up, dug in and came away with four points.
Alex Goode was crucial. Not only his solid defence and organisation was good but his goalkicking was five out of five – who could ask for more than that?
Jeremy Staunton’s goalkicking was less accurate and Billy Twelvetrees was left with the chance to win the game, with the last kick of the match, 90 seconds after he came on. He missed, but no in their right mind could blame him for this defeat.
Had Toby Flood been playing, Leicester would have won so the Tigers hope he’ll be back for the Heineken Cup and the business end of the League season.
Referee Sean Davey also disappointed me. There is no point referee giving penalty after penalty as he did without producing a yellow card. The players cheat, cheat and cheat again and a simple penalty is never enough to deter them. Either let them get on with their cheating or act decisively. If you do neither we get a frustrating game like this one when almost every promising attack was ended by Davey’s whistle.
Players of Significance:
Manu Tuilagi – A star is born. Wonderful over the ball, a brick wall in defence and so dangerous with the ball. He scored a great try, picking the ball up 40 metres out and smashing through four Saracens defenders to score. It’s a question of when not if he is called into the England squad. Sooner rather than later I say as he is a certainty for the 30-man World Cup squad. Send him to New Zealand with caps under his belt.
Alex Goode – He looked to have been thrown off course by the debate over whether he should play 10 or 15. He’s now back in his natural position of full-back
David Strettle – Treads one of the toughest beats, getting called up to the England squad, battered, then gets battered by England only to be sent back to his club on Wednesday. Showed real promise and the desire to go looking for work. His chance will come and on this form he’s likely to take it.
Matt Stevens – For the first time he looked like the young player I saw emerging at Bath before his drug problems derailed his rugby career. He wants to play tighthead, I know, but here on the loose, where I think he should stay – he was outstanding against Castro. A real star and once he gets fitter we will start seeing his running and offloading game. Good enough to make the World Cup.