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Freddie Burns’ late Leicester drop goal downs Saracens in Premiership final | Premiership & More Trending News



It has been a while but the once-mighty Tigers of Leicester are roaring again. Not since 2013 have England’s erstwhile superclub been crowned English domestic champions and the outpouring of joy – and relief – at the final whistle was indicative of the long and winding trek they have had to undertake to regain their old status.

And, when it came, deliverance could scarcely have been sweeter, a last minute drop-goal from replacement stand-off Freddie Burns clinching a contest that bubbled throughout like molten lava. The game had seemed destined for extra time, with the Tigers down to 14 men, only for Ben Youngs to sweep the ball back to his fly-half almost in front of the posts. The flight of the ball was lowish and flat but over it went and Saracens were sunk.

What a triumph it was, too, for Steve Borthwick who has done a magnificent job of breathing fresh life into a proud old institution. Borthwick’s side have many of the hallmarks of the gnarled Tiger packs of old, further reinforced by a steely South African outer casing. If first-half tries from Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese were not the only reasons Leicester emerged victorious they perfectly reflected the muscular energy that hammered Saracens into reluctant submission.

They also highlighted the defensive excellence that kept Saracens, normally so good at keeping the scoreboard ticking over, mostly at arm’s length. Not once could they cross the Tigers’ tryline but they were confounded by two familiar faces. Borthwick and Richard Wigglesworth, the latter at 39 the oldest player to appear in a Premiership final, know exactly what makes Saracens tick and used that knowledge to construct an unyielding tactical antidote.

Yes, there was a lot of kicking involved but anyone remotely familiar with these two sides could have predicted that. Not everyone out there loves these finalists or swoons at the way they play but supporters of the other 11 clubs in the league can hardly claim they sneaked into Twickenham by the back door. Leicester led the regular season race from start to finish and Saracens looked impressively strong in winning their semi-final against last year’s winners Harlequins.

But who could deliver when it mattered most? On a grey, humid afternoon the sense of anticipation was real enough. It was heavy and thunderous and that was just the weather. Leicester were last in a final in 2013 and that weight of expectation was tangible. The rock-solid Freddie Steward even dropped his first high ball which is practically unheard of.

Freddie Burns (second left) celebrates after seeing his winning drop goal sail over.
Freddie Burns (second left) shows his delight after seeing his winning drop goal sail over. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Leicester needed some encouragement and, after Owen Farrell had given his side an early lead with a penalty for a late tackle on Nick Tompkins, it arrived in the shape of two small but significant misjudgments from the Saracens’ scrum-half Aled Davies. First he grassed a high box-kick from Wigglesworth and then, shortly afterwards, put his teammate Alex Goode into a whole heap of trouble on his own line.

It yielded an attacking five-metre scrum with Leicester and the entire east Midlands licking their lips. If they could push Sarries backwards, suddenly it would become a different game. How chastening it was, then, when both Tigers props were deemed to have buckled under pressure and the promising position went unrewarded.

Worse, seemingly, followed when George Ford, having narrowly missed a penalty shot at goal, went over on his ankle after eluding Davies’s tackle right in front of the East Stand. It was a sad way for the fly-half’s Tigers’ career to draw to a close but offered Burns an earlier-than-expected chance to make a game-changing difference.

Soon enough there was another twist, Davies correctly seeing yellow for a high shot on the onrushing Julián Montoya. The Tigers were duly energised and immediately exploited their numerical advantage, Steward making good ground before Liebenberg powered his way over from short range. Burns slotted the angled conversion and the initiative was suddenly with Leicester.

With Goode forced to stand in at No9, it was dim thinking for the Tigers to concede an unnecessary ruck penalty that allowed Sarries both to soak up some time and earn three points via the booming left boot of Elliot Daly. The reprieve proved only temporary, a smartly executed tap-and-go move from five metres out ending with Wiese blasting unstoppably around the corner to register another valuable five-pointer.

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The subtle shift of angle and momentum had Borthwick’s fingerprints all over it and, either side of half-time, Leicester were also proving a handful at the breakdown where Montoya once again was a consistent menace. The turnovers were ruining Saracens’ momentum and another of them resulted in a huge territorial gain and a prolonged Leicester attacking siege.

Three times, though, the peep of referee Wayne Barnes’s whistle signalled defensive penalties that took the marginto six points until another Farrell penalty at the other end made it 12-9 with 15 minutes left. When Leicester again offended under the posts with four minutes left, it offered Farrell the chance to level the scores, with Matt Scott also receiving a yellow card for making head contact on a charging Billy Vunipola. Then came Burns and total delirium.

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