Saracens win to reclaim second
Saracens reclaimed second place in the Aviva Premiership from Bath as the European Champions Cup semi-finalists powered past play-off rivals Leicester 22-6 at Allianz Park.
Tries either side of half-time by number eight Billy Vunipola, centre Marcelo Bosch and wing Chris Wyles - plus two Charlie Hodgson conversions - left Leicester in disarray after they led 6-0 through two Freddie Burns penalties.
Hodgson added a 62nd-minute penalty as Leicester fell away in the second period, with Saracens scoring 15 unanswered points to ease home.
The Tigers are still hanging on to the fourth and final play-off spot with three games left, but Saracens are closing in on the Premiership's knockout phase and a possible home tie next month.
Saracens must quickly switch their attention back to European matters - they tackle French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Saint Etienne next Saturday - but Mark McCall's men can travel knowing that domestic business appears in fine fettle.
Leicester, though, have got it all to do, with Premiership champions Northampton and play-off hopefuls Wasps on their fixture schedule, suggesting a top-four finish is far from guaranteed.
England centre Brad Barritt returned from an ankle injury to line up in Saracens' midfield alongside Bosch, whose last-gasp penalty secured a dramatic victory over Champions Cup quarter-final opponents Racing Metro last weekend, while Scotland international Kelly Brown replaced suspended flanker Jacques Burger.
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill made two changes from the side that beat Exeter a fortnight ago, with Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva filling the wing slots vacated by Adam Thompstone, who was on the bench, and an injured Miles Benjamin.
And it was the Tigers that made a more impressive start, moving six points ahead after 11 minutes through two Burns penalties which rewarded some composed and efficient phase-play.
Saracens appeared sluggish in comparison, creating little in attack and being out-thought tactically by Burns and his half-back partner Ben Youngs behind a Leicester pack that showed set-piece diligence.
Bosch drifted a long-range penalty attempt well wide midway through the first-half, and Saracens' sense of frustration was summed up after Brown made a powerful midfield run, Vunipola took the move on, but skipper Alistair Hargreaves spilled possession in open play.
Saracens enjoyed a spell of pressure as half-time approached, but full-back Alex Goode hit the post with a penalty inside Leicester's 22 into a strong wind.
Leicester then lost hooker Tom Youngs to the sin-bin after referee Matt Carley spotted an obstruction on Saracens wing Chris Ashton, handing the home side a one-man advantage as the interval approached.
And Saracens made the Tigers pay, exerting considerable scrum pressure that reaped its reward when Vunipola powered over from close range, before Hodgson's conversion secured a 7-6 half-time lead.
With Youngs still off the pitch, Leicester had their work cut out, and Saracens did not spare them as they collected a second try following Ashton's strong run, with the move finished off by Bosch. Youngs then returned, but Wyles touched down wide out as the home side eased clear.
Leicester's early promise had evaporated, with their cause not helped by scrummaging cornerstone Marcos Ayerza limping off in agony after he attempted to tackle Bosch.
Entering the final quarter, Saracens went in pursuit of a bonus-point try, but although a fourth touchdown ultimately eluded them, they were impressive value for a 13th win from 19 Premiership games this term.
Leicester huffed and puffed as they looked for a consolation score, yet the Tigers lacked attacking flair and invention, confirming a dismal strike-rate this season that has seen only Premiership basement club London Welsh score fewer league tries than them.
And Tigers' afternoon ended with another player in the sin-bin as Goneva saw yellow following a forearm-led challenge on an opponent that could yet attract the citing commissioner's attention.