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Leicester Tigers: Match verdict - Fourth home loss in row really hurts


For the fourth consecutive regular season game at Welford Road, Saracens enjoyed the sweet taste of success.

There can be few, if any teams, that have enjoyed such a record on Leicester soil in the past.

A virtually nomadic existence in the last few years has obviously helped the Fez Heads believe they can win on any ground.

This is a side with few fears and plenty of belief.

But even that belligerent self-belief would have been put to the test on 31 minutes when Tigers led 17-3 after running in one of the best tries you will ever see .

The hosts already led 10-3 after Julian Salvi's close-range score when George Ford side-stepped Richard Wigglesworth 10 metres from his own line and fed Geordan Murphy.

The Irishman dummied one defender and drew another before floating a lovely pass out to Matt Smith.

He passed to Adam Thompstone, who held off James Short for 10 metres with a stiff hand to the face.

Salvi threw recycled ball out to Ford who sent a gorgeous chip over the on-rushing defence, allowing Dan Bowden to dive over the line and spark jubilant celebrations.

Ford's conversion made it 17-3 and Leicester were so much on top at this stage, that a bonus point win looked likely.

Charlie Hodgson pulled a penalty back before half-time and it was still 17-6 with half-an-hour to go after both sides kicked the leather off the ball after the break.

But, suddenly, the game changed in an instant and Saracens produced one of the most clinical 23-minute spells of rugby you will see all season.

David Strettle got them off the mark exposing space in the corner and then fellow winger James Short did exactly the same on the opposite side four minutes later.

Hodgson missed the kick but Saracens led for the first time 18-17.

Strettle added a third try on 64 minutes and, by now, the visitors' powerful ball-carriers were making real in-roads and, as Leicester's starting XV tired, Saracens' bench injected energy and venom.

It was no surprise when Tigers were sucked in again making tackles and Chris Wyles exposed the space to add a bonus-point fourth try.

The hosts grabbed a losing bonus point in extra-time as Strettle was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and referee JP Doyle made him join Duncan Taylor in the sin-bin as he awarded a penalty try.

By that stage, many Tigers fans had already left a Welford Road that resembled a morgue as the damage was done.

In the end, Leicester just had too many key players missing.

Even with the first-choice tight-head prop, hooker, line-out leader, scrum-half, fly-half and outside-centre all on England duty, Tigers proved during the autumn internationals that they had the strength of squad to get by.

But throw in injuries to other key men like Louis Deacon, Steve Mafi and Anthony Allen and it was just too much for them to cope with against top-class opposition.

There were, however, two huge plus points from the evening.

Murphy and Jordan Crane were both in superb form.

Murphy hit a series of lovely lines and made breaks through the Sarries' defence all night long.

Age catches up with us all and the 34-year-old's body is showing signs of wear and tear, but the Irishman's rugby brain is still young and vibrant and any talk of him hanging up his boots on this evidence would be ridiculous.

Crane, meanwhile, was at his warrior-like best. Relishing the contact in both attack and defence, he also snaffled two turnovers he had no right to make and was at the forefront of some of Leicester's best kick-chase moments.

The result wasn't terminal for Leicester and their battling last-gasp try earned a losing bonus point that was at least some crumb of comfort.

Saracens and Harlequins also have to play each other in March so somebody will lose that game – and Tigers have played well enough to lead both of those teams in the last fortnight after 40 minutes.

But Sarries seem to have an Indian sign over Tigers at Welford Road and, for a side that rarely loses at home, that will hurt like hell.

Leicester Tigers: Match verdict - Fourth home loss in row really hurts

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