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Page last updated at 11:38 GMT, Sunday, 30 May 2010 12:38 UK

Leicester win best ever Premiership final

Leicester hooker George Chuter and second row Louis Deacon celebrate as the final whistle sounds
Leicester were pushed to the very limit before retaining their crown

By James Standley
BBC Sport at Twickenham

It was, by common consent, the best Premiership final ever.

And when Glen Jackson's fifth penalty flew between the posts after precisely 76 minutes and four seconds to give Saracens the lead for the fifth time in an absolute belter of a game it looked as though it was about to produce a brand new champion of England.

But finals rugby can be a cruel game. Toby Flood's hanging kick at the re-start was claimed by Scott Hamilton and after he scissored with Dan Hipkiss, it was Jackson who scragged the Leicester centre around the neck before falling off the tackle.

With the referee's arm indicating a penalty to the Tigers, Hipkiss burst out of the throng and raced over for the winning score.

"It was a high tackle, I think the guys just slacked off and he just slipped through there," confirmed Saracens captain Ernst Joubert after the game.

"Fair play to Floody," said Tigers boss Richard Cockerill.

The next bloke comes in, we work hard, we get on with it and that's life

Cockerill on the Leicester way

"We practise re-starts a lot. A lot of the time he bottles it but he kicked it in the right spot, Scotty catches it and we win the game. Fair play to the players really. They made the call under the posts."

There was still time for Saracens to fashion one final attacking position, but Leicester second row Geoff Parling soared highest to produce a line-out steal that brought back memories of Justin Harrison's dramatic poach for Australia in the third Test against the Lions in 2001.

Leicester's 33-27 win gave them their third title in four years, and their ninth overall, to confirm their status as the most successful club in England.

"Even at the death Geoff Parling makes the choice to go up. He misses that and they catch it, they'll drive us over, so you have to give the players a huge amount of credit," said Cockerill.

"Saracens are a good side, they could have won, but so are Leicester.

"Everyone likes the people who are good to lose, because that makes a good story 'oh, Leicester won again, well that's boring'.

"To win back to back titles is very hard. It's been a hard year with a lot of injuries at times but we battle on and do what we do and it's turned out to be quite good."

Leicester's Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni on the rampage for the Tigers
The 18 stone plus Castrogiovanni was a major weapon for Leicester

In the end the Tigers, who were appearing in their sixth straight final, deserved to win.

In Jordan Crane and Martin Castrogiovanni they had the two most powerful ball carriers on the pitch and they led by nine points early in the second half.

Had fly-half Flood not missed with two kickable penalties as the Leicester pack took control of the scrum, the champions would have been out of sight and Sarries' brave fightback would not have been possible.

That Saracens were able to summon the reserves to hit back from that deficit says everything about the fighting spirit that has been created in the club this season.

After finishing ninth in 2009 they turned to former London Irish boss Brendan Venter to turn the club around.

In came 14 new players and although it was far from pretty as Venter imposed a highly conservative gameplan they gelled immediately and ground their way to the top of the table with nine wins in the first 10 league games.

A mid-season slump saw them fall away from the summit but a change of gameplan to a more expansive style saw them roar into Twickenham on the back of wins away to Northampton, twice, and Leicester.

The man credited with creating their fighting spirit, Venter, was not at Twickenham to see his team come so close to winning Saracens' first Premiership title.

606: DEBATE
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Both coaches, Venter and winning counterpart Cockerill, are passionate spectators and both had been summoned by the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in the lead-up to the game for overstepping the mark while watching recent matches.

Cockerill had got away with a slap on the wrist but Venter was deemed to have sinned more severely, which meant he was handed a 10-week ban and had to watch the game on TV at home with his five-year-old son Joshua.

He had jokingly threatened to try and sneak in to the game dressed as Saracens' camel mascot Sarrie, but fly-half Jackson, who was unimpressed by the RFU'S decision to prevent the coach from attending, confirmed after the game the boss had stayed away.

"We haven't seen him all day. We're going to meet him later," said the New Zealander, who was playing his last game before swapping the kicking tee for a whistle, with a new life as a referee ahead of him.

First team coach Mark McCall said Saracens were "absolutely gutted" Venter was not allowed to be at Twickenham and Cockerill said it was "unfortunate" his opposite number could not attend.

Cockerill added: "His team played very, very well today and he probably deserved to enjoy that, but I don't really want to get involved in that.

"Brendan's clearly a good coach, he drives them really hard and it obviously works for them. He must take a huge amount of credit for what's happened to them this year."

Leicester number eight Martin Castrogiovanni poses with the man of the match award on Saturday
Man of the match Crane made the hard yards time and again

What has happened this year for Saracens, who have only won a solitary cup in their history, is that after years of underachievement they have confirmed they can mix it with the likes of Leicester at the top table, but captain Joubert confirmed they want more in the future.

"We've proved what we can do in one year, we've got some brilliant new additions to the squad next year, it's really exciting what's to come," he said, alluding to the signings of players such as Matt Stevens and David Strettle.

What Saracens would like to come would be a return to Twickenham next year to try and win that elusive first title, preferably with Venter in attendance rather than sitting at home trying to explain the intricacies of front-row play to a youngster.

The more likely returnees, though, are surely Leicester.

They will be without the likes of long-term servants Lewis Moody and Ben Kay, who are both leaving the club, but as Cockerill was keen to point out after paying tribute to the two Tigers stalwarts, a new generation is on its way off the Tigers' conveyor belt, and Leicester have no intention of giving up their winning ways.

"We are moving to another generation of a core of Leicester players who have come through our academy to play in our first team," he said.

"Dean Richards finished, and Martin Johnson finished, and people think 'who are we going to replace them with?'. But the next bloke comes in, we work hard, we get on with it and that's life."

Relentless advance - it is the Leicester way on and off the pitch.

What odds a seventh straight final appearance, and hat-trick of titles, for the Tigers next year?



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see also
Cockerill hails try hero Hipkiss
29 May 10 |  English
Leicester 33-27 Saracens
29 May 10 |  English
Premiership final as it happened
29 May 10 |  Rugby Union
Premiership final photos
29 May 10 |  Rugby Union
Tigers coach receives RFU warning
27 May 10 |  Leicester
Venter final ban appeal rejected
26 May 10 |  Saracens
Newby cleared to appear in final
25 May 10 |  Leicester
Hooker Brits wins players' award
26 May 10 |  English
Borthwick back for Saracens final
25 May 10 |  Saracens
Australia break Lions' hearts
14 Jul 01 |  Lions Down Under


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