Leicester beat Saracens 15-12 in the final at Twickenham
Freddie Burns drop-goal clinches Premiership title
A Freddie Burns drop-goal with just 25 seconds left on the clock delivered Leicester Tigers their first Gallagher Premiership title in nine years.
The clutch kick ensured a 15-12 win over Saracens in the final at Twickenham, to the delight of Tigers supporters.
Leicester had led 12-6 at the break having scored two quickfire tries while Saracens were reduced to 14 men, but the London club drew things level with four minutes to go through two Owen Farrell penalties.
Back came Leicester, though. And this time when reduced to 14 men themselves.
A Ben Youngs up-and-under was collected by Ollie Chessum, Leicester worked the phases and set for a drop-goal – and Burns calmly kicked the ball through the posts before racing off to celebrate.
There was still work to do as there was time for the restart but Leicester were able to regather the ball and Burns, of course, was the one to kick it into touch to end the game. And he raced off to celebrate for a second time.
It’s the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for Leicester, who, after dominating the English game for so long, have slipped to the lower reaches of the Premiership table in more recent years and last won the title in 2013.
Richard Wigglesworth, who now has a seventh Premiership winner’s medal at the age of 39 having won titles previously with Sale Sharks and Saracens, played excellently from scrum-half while Jasper Wiese and Tommy Reffell were impressive at the breakdown. Yet it still required late drama to secure the victory.
Saracens had dominated territory and possession in the opening quarter, then Leicester lost George Ford to injury as he looked to have turned his ankle when slipping as he passed the ball.
However, momentum quickly switched in the Tigers’ favour as Aled Davies was sin-binned.
The TMO highlighted a high tackle by the Sarries scrum-half on Julian Montoya and as the officials went through the process they downgraded it from a red to yellow card as the dominant force came from the ball-carrier (Montoya) rather than Davies.
While Davies was on the sidelines Leicester scored two tries. The first was a direct result of the yellow card, Tigers finding touch from the penalty and then spreading the ball wide from the lineout.
Freddie Steward made good ground down the right and when the ball was recycled Hanro Liebenberg grounded from close range.
A few minutes later, after Saracens had closed the gap to 7-6 with an Elliot Daly penalty, came the Tigers’ second try.
Wigglesworth charged down Farrell, Chris Ashton collected the ball and kicked infield. Farrell secured possession but carried it over the try-line and Leicester had a five-metre scrum, from which they then won a penalty.
They opted to tap-and-go through Ellis Genge and Wiese crashed over from the second phase to make it 12-6 at the break.
Tigers looked to extend their lead in the second half, setting up camp in the Saracens 22 from the 49th minute to the 60th (all following an incredible 50:22 kick that was actually a 22:22 from Steward) and trying to get their rolling maul into gear.
Sarries held off those surges and then drew level through the boot of Farrell going into the closing stages as Leicester were reduced to 14 when Matt Scott was sin-binned for making head contact with Billy Vunipola. Like the Davies incident, it was ruled that ball-carrier Vunipola was the dominant force in the hit so it was a yellow card.
Despite being at a numerical disadvantage, Leicester were able to attack again from the restart and set up the position for Burns to drop the goal. The replacement fly-half admitted afterwards that he thought that was the end of the game before realising there were 25 seconds left and quickly focusing on the restart.
As much as it is a story of resurgence for the Tigers, it is too for Burns, who is back in the Premiership after a spell in Japan. He said: “Japan was the best thing to happen to me as I fell back in love with the game and it checked my ego a bit. Now I’m waking up every day and playing for the club I love.
“Players come and go but supporters support their club through thick and thin. To give them this, to be champions of England – it feels weird saying it – and give them that satisfaction means the world to everyone at Tigers.”
Poignantly one of the loudest cheers of the afternoon came when Tom Youngs, whose wife Tiffany sadly died last week, appeared on the big screen.
It was fitting that the former Leicester and England hooker was there to join in celebrations on the pitch, lifting the trophy with Genge.
Will we see another Leicester dynasty build from here? “I think there’s a lot of growth in this team,” said director of rugby Steve Borthwick afterwards.
“You could almost pick a XV that’s played this season that’s 21 years old. There’s a lot of growth in those players, they’re really keen. So there’s growth potential, but you’ve got to work hard and work smart.”
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