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By James Cunliffe at Wembley
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Premiership: Saracens 9 Leicester Tigers 9
In a week were BT Vision announced a massive TV deal to screen Premiership rugby, two of England’s giants served up a game that is bound to be ignored in any future showcase reels.
That Saracens and Leicester Tigers could not be separated after 80 turgid minutes proved only two things – that neither deserved to lose and neither deserved to win.
In the end, that they shared two points apiece was down to two wayward drop goals attempts at the death from two of the game’s most reliable of fly-halves in Charlie Hodgson and Toby Flood.
But in such a poor nip and tuck game it was the first half profligacy of Owen Farrell – preferred to Saracens’ more decorated number ten – that ultimately did for the 2011 champions’ chances of a third straight victory.
Four out of five pots at goal were squandered by the youngster, doing his international chances little favour, while the more experienced Flood fired a perfect first half hat-trick.
Once he was replaced Hodgson managed - in 25 minutes on the pitch - to land two penalties which dragged his team on terms. But his and Flood’s last ditch misses more than summed up a match mired in mistakes of the unforced persuasion.
They permeated both halves of rugby but there was little wrong with The Tigers’ ace’s first half showing with the boot. He nailed his opening chance and within two minutes he’d landed a huge second from just inside Saracens’ half.
It would be a stark contrast to Farrell who inexplicably squandered the first and last of his opportunities in the opening 40 minutes from the most routine of positions, right in front of the sticks.
But before the Sarries stand-off was presented with his first shot the two fly-halves spent a tedious period punting the ball back and forth to each other in the midfield. Indeed, neither team’s 22 was unduly troubled throughout.
Despite wasting a chance to halve Leicester’s lead his side did make a better fist of the early running, trying to generate quick ball and offloading in the tackle to keep their drives alive with Alex Goode, in particular, making use of a gap offered up by by the east midlands side. That was as good as it got though.
Farrell just couldn’t supplement his friends’ efforts as he pulled two penalties wide of the mark in the space of a minute.
Flood’s hat-trick kick on 34 minutes further put the pressure on Sarries and Farrell but, moments later, he finally bisected the posts at the fourth time of asking. His post-kick puff of the cheeks said everything about his afternoon.
If his day’s work up to that point hadn’t suggested the need for a change of personnel then his final wasted penalty, just before the break, should have been the signal for Hodgson to start warming up.
The Premiership’s all-time leading points scorer still had to wait until the 54th minute for his introduction, before which the second period had descended into an error-ridden shambles.
But as soon as the England international had entered the fray he was summoning for a kicking tee. He did what he does best and then struck again, levelling the scores five minutes later, almost matching the distance of Flood’s first half long-ranger.
Whatever it was that had affected Farrell in the first half then transferred to the Tigers ten as he blotted his copybook with a first miss that would have put his side back in the lead.
The inaccuracy was quick to rub off on his opposite number who, at the death, sliced a drop goal attempt that would have kept alive Sarries’ 100 per cent start to the season.
Instead it offered up the chance for Leicester to aim for the same. There was one last push as they barged their way into Saracens’ 22, but with the black and red wall standing firm Flood dropped back into the hole, awaiting the killer pass and with the uprights in front of him.
It was fitting of the contest that his effort dropped wide as a victory for either side would have been a travesty.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 James Short (23 Chris Wyles 62), 10 Owen Farrell (22 Charlie Hodgson, 54), 9 Neil de Kock (21 Richard Wigglesworth, 52), 1 Mako Vunipola (17 Rhys Gill, 62), 2 Schalk Brits (16 John Smit, 62), 3 Carlos Nieto (18 Petrus du Plessis, 50), 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 5 Mouritz Botha (19 Alistair Hargreaves, 68), 6 Kelly Brown, 7 Jackson Wray (20 Will Fraser,), 8 Ernst Joubert
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy (c) (3 Matt Smith 16), 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sam Harrison, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola (17 Boris Stankovich), 2 Tom Youngs (16 George Chuter, 72), 3 Dan Cole (18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 52), 4 Graham Kitchener, 5 Geoff Parling, 6 Steve Mafi, 7 Julian Salvi, 8 Thomas Waldrom (20 Jordan Crane 64),
Unused replacements: 19 Rob Andrew, 21 Patrick Phibbs, 22 George Ford