22 min: Ford has a chance to level the scores from the kicking tee but directs the ball right of the posts and Saracens remain in the lead. With more than a quarter of the match gone it’s already looking likely to be a tight, low-scoring affair and that miss could be important in the final reckoning.
18 min: Billy Vunipola embarks on a rampaging run into the Leicester half. The Tigers are under pressure, but they win a penalty after a double tackle by Farrell and a teammate near the Leicester try-line.
16 min: Leicester have Saracens where they want them … but Saracens win the penalty from the scrum! Dan Cole loses his bind and collapses to the floor. Standing near the scrum, Owen Farrell is pictured punching the air and roaring his approval of the penalty as if it’s a try or better.
14 min: Having pinned Saracens back, Leicester now look to put the ball through the hands for a few phases, orchestrated by Ford. Then a smart kick through puts Goode under massive pressure in the Sarries in-goal area, and Leicester swarm all over him and win a five-metre scrum.
12 min: Ford puts up another garryowen for Leicester. The full-back Goode catches it, calls for a mark, then looks to run it out of his own 22. He is soon smothered by Tigers tacklers. Leicester are constantly kicking for territory and asking Saracens whether they want to run it or kick it back. The answer is mostly kick.
8 min: There is plenty of kicking from hand, which we expected. Steward belts a powerful low one which Isiekwe catches smartly and then carries … but he knocks on in contact and Leicester have a scrum. It’s a low risk/low reward approach from both teams in the early stages, and I’m already left hoping that it doesn’t continue in quite the same vein.
That marginally late tackle by Liebenberg allows Saracens to edge in front as Farrell strokes the penalty over from a central position. It wasn’t the shortest of distances but he had a full sight of the target. The early signs are that Saracens are managing this game better of the two sides.
4 min: The Tigers’ Hanro Liebenberg is penalised for a late tackle with Saracens on the attack. Farrell will kick for goal.
2 min: Freddie Steward of Leicester drops a high ball in midfield. Wayne Barnes plays the advantage for Saracens, but then brings it back for a scrum after a forward pass out wide. The forwards pack down for an early shoving contest.
Owen Farrell gets things started for Saracens.
Here we go. The teams are walking out on to the Twickenham pitch. The pyrotechnics are firing. And the crowd, packed into Twickenham for a Premiership final for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, are roaring and ready to go.
Steve Borthwick takes a lineout drill before kick-off at Twickenham.
“Whoever is more dominant and more ‘alpha’ in the collisions is likely to win the game as the breakdown will be easier,” says Flatman on ITV4. “Get as technical as you want, but the big lads need to deliver ball.”
Under 10 minutes until kick-off. But you’ve got time to watch very good BT Sport feature on Leicester’s resurgence since being spared relegation two seasons ago:
“On a train journey from Madrid to Córdoba,” emails Steve Moore, a Tigers member “on an unfortunately timed holiday”.
“The heat here could be nothing to that generated at the game in 20 minutes.”
Let’s hope it’s a hot one.
“I made a pact a long time ago that I’d never leave Tigers if they were in a dark hole,” Genge says as he prepares for the Premiership final against Saracens. “I had all sorts of offers to go elsewhere when we were bottom of the pile. I said I wanted to stick it out to see brighter days. So I can hopefully leave with my head held high.”
Daniel Gallan speaks to Ellis Genge of Leicester before his final match for the club:
Leicester’s head coach Steve Borthwick speaks: “Tactically let’s be smart, let’s have a good plan, but let’s put in a performance we can be proud of … you can try and be safe, but I want the players to be proud of their performance, and I want the fans to be proud of their team.
“It’s a great journey we’re on, we’ve enjoyed this week, and we’ll enjoy today. I’m excited every week … I’m enjoying every second of it.”
Leicester fans, Saracens fans, and indeed neutrals: how are you feeling for this one?
You can email me or tweet @LukeMcLaughlin with your thoughts. Get involved.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, speaks to ITV4: “It feels good to be back, it feels good to be here, and we’re looking forward to the match.
“Leicester tend to dominate territory against anyone they play and we need a find a way to stop them doing that.”
“Saracens should win,” Dallaglio reckons, speaking on BT Sport.
“The bookies are saying Saracens and they don’t often get it wrong. But I haven’t got a clue who’s going to win,” chips in David Flatman, over on ITV4.
There’s been a spot of rain in Twickenham this afternoon but the forecast is for it to stay dry for the rest of the day. It’s around 22C, which is going to be a lot more comfortable for the players than had the final been played in the plus-30 degree temperatures of yesterday.
On BT Sport, Craig Doyle, Ugo Monye and Lawrence Dallaglio are currently having a chat, as they usually do before a live match. The only difference here is they are doing it on a stage in a car park full of bellowing rugby fans. As Doyle points out, it’s good to see so many fans in attendance this year – last year’s final was restricted to an attendance of 10,000 due to Covid-19.
What sets these two sides apart is they have an acute awareness of the importance of maintaining tactical discipline throughout matches. It is such a difficult craft to master and it is so undervalued. Whether it’s the coaches or the players driving that, or a mixture of both, it is a key reason why Leicester and Saracens have got as far as they have.
Owen Farrell was a teenager playing like an old-timer the last time Sarries and Leicester collided in a Twickenham final, in 2011, kicking soaring touchline conversions and fitting seamlessly into a side captained by Steve Borthwick, the current Tigers’ head coach. Now, at 30, he is an old-timer seeking to regain some of that youthful energy.
The Leicester head coach Borthwick has opted to bring two former Saracens into his starting lineup, with the veteran Richard Wigglesworth at No 9 and Chris Ashton coming in on the wing. The England scrum-half Ben Youngs starts on the bench. There is one change for Saracens with the lock Nick Isiekwe coming into the starting lineup for Tim Swinson.
Leicester: Freddie Steward, Chris Ashton, Matías Moroni, Guy Porter, Harry Potter, George Ford, Richard Wigglesworth; Ellis Genge (capt.), Julián Montoya, Dan Cole, Ollie Chessum, Calum Green, Hanro Liebenberg (vc), Tommy Reffell, Jasper Wiese. Replacements: Charlie Clare, Nephi Leatigaga, Joe Heyes, Harry Wells, George Martin, Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Matt Scott.
Saracens: Alex Goode, Max Malins, Elliot Daly, Nick Tompkins, Sean Maitland, Owen Farrell (capt.), Aled Davies; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Vincent Koch, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Theo McFarland, Ben Earl, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Kapeli Pifeleti, Eroni Mawi, Alec Clarey, Jackson Wray, Andy Christie, Ivan van Zyl, Duncan Taylor, Alex Lozowski.
Will it be blood and thunder or thud and blunder? At the culmination of a Premiership season often characterised by attacking ambition and expansive, running rugby, two sides built on defensive discipline, structure and set-piece efficiency will grapple for the title at Twickenham this afternoon.
Leicester have already made history by becoming the first team to top the Premiership table after every round of the regular season. They eventually finished seven points clear of second-placed Saracens, their opponents today, and there can be no doubt Steve Borthwick’s Tigers were the best and most consistent side throughout a campaign which began more than nine months ago. But Saracens, back in the top flight following the deeply damaging salary cap scandal, have immediately created an opportunity for themselves to consign all of that to the past.
Harlequins and Northampton, the two more artful sides left standing at the end of 26 rounds, both fell in the playoff semi-finals, leaving these two traditional heavyweights of the domestic game to fight it out. The Saracens and England fly-half Owen Farrell has never lost a Premiership final – he has won five – but the 10-times champions Leicester, for whom captain Ellis Genge and George Ford both play their final matches, will be utterly determined to justify their No 1 billing.
Team news, pre-match reading and much more coming up.
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