Wiese and Liebenberg help Leicester win Premiership title
PREMIERSHIP REPORT: Freddie Burns’s last-minute drop-goal helped Leicester end a nine-year wait to be crowned champions of England once again as they defeated Saracens 15-12 in a dramatic Premiership Final at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Tigers had been 12-6 ahead thanks to tries by Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese only for Saracens to draw level through the boot of England’s Owen Farrell.
But with time running out, Burns – only on the field as a replacement for the injured George Ford – dropped a goal that gave Leicester their 11th English title but first since 2013.
Leicester dominated territory and possession but were unable to put Saracens away until Burns scored their only points of the second half with what was his first drop-goal of the season.
Two years ago, five-time Premiership champions Saracens were relegated from the top-flight after being hit with a 105-point deduction for breaches of salary cap rules.
Had it not been for that huge penalty, Leicester, the English club game’s dominant force for much of the 1990s and 2000s, would have been demoted to the Championship instead.
But under the guidance of former England captain Steve Borthwick, who started his coaching career while a player at Saracens, the Tigers were never headed at the top of the table during the 2021/22 regular season.
It was Saracens, however, who opened the scoring with Farrell’s fifth-minute penalty.
Opposing flyhalf Ford limped off in the 23rd minute with what appeared to be an ankle injury as he was consoled by boyhood friend Farrell.
It was not the way Ford would have wanted to bow out in his last Leicester appearance before joining Sale next season and put a question mark over his availability for England’s three-Test tour of Australia next month.
Saracens, however, were reduced to 14 men soon afterwards when Davies was yellow-carded by referee Wayne Barnes for a shoulder challenge to the head of opposition hooker Julian Montoya.
Leicester, in what had been an attritional game, capitalised on their man advantage with two tries.
Fullback Freddie Steward made a break before finding Chris Ashton. The wing, playing against his old club, was brought down near Saracens’ line but Liebenberg then forced his way over for a try converted by Burns.
Elliot Daly, one of several England internationals on show, cut the gap to a point with a long-range penalty just after the half-hour mark.
Leicester, however, soon had their second try.
Ellis Genge tapped a penalty after Saracens collapsed a scrum near their own line and charged into the opposing pack, with a pass from veteran scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth, preferred to current England No. 9 Ben Youngs in the starting XV, sending in Wiese on the blindside for a try that left the Tigers six points ahead at half-time.
Burns missed a penalty early in the second half and the Tigers, despite being repeatedly encamped near Saracens’ line, could not add to their points tally in the face of committed defence by the London club.
Farrell’s 64th-minute penalty then reduced Leicester’s lead to three points before he levelled the scores from in front of the posts five minutes from time after a break by replacement Andy Christie.
But with extra-time looming and Leicester a man down following Matt Scott’s dangerous tackle on the impressive Billy Vunipola, it was Burns, who had the final say.
Man of the match: Replacement flyhalf Freddie Burns was the hero with that drop goal and made some good decisions. Hanro Liebenberg was everywhere on defence and his work rate in other areas of the game was outstanding. However, the award goes to Springbok No.8 Jasper Wiese. He was a powerhouse with ball in hand and he put in some big hits on defence as well. Like Liebenberg, he also crossed the whitewash for a five-pointer.
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Liebenberg, Wiese
Pens: Farrell 3, Daly
Yellow cards: Aled Davies (Saracens, 26′ – foul play, high tackle); Matt Scott (Leicester, 76′ – foul play, high tackle)
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Guy Porter, 11 Harry Potter, 10 George Ford, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 5 Calum Green, 4 Ollie Chessum, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 Ellis Genge (captain).
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Harry Wells, 20 George Martin, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Matt Scott.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Max Malins, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Aled Davies, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Theo McFarland, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Kapeli Pifeleti, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Jackson Wray, 20 Andy Christie, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Alex Lozowski.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce, Christophe Ridley
TMO: Tom Foley