Saracens were crowned English rugby union champions for the first time when they overcame perennial finalists Leicester 22-18 in a gripping Premiership final at Twickenham on Saturday.
The match was a repeat of last year’s final, which Leicester snatched at the end for their ninth title, but this time Saracens scored the game’s only try through James Short and came home via the boot of ice-cool 19-year-old flyhalf Owen Farrell, who kicked the remaining points.
Leicester, who finished top of the standings in the regular season, were appearing in the final for the seventh year in succession, while it was Saracens’ second and their victory brought the London club their first silverware since winning the knockout Cup in 1998.
The score was 6-6 after 20 minutes with two penalties apiece for Farrell and Toby Flood, despite Leicester losing scrumhalf Ben Youngs to the sin-bin five minutes into the match.
Saracens, though, gradually took command and scored the opening try after half an hour when another blasting run from irrepressible hooker Schalk Brits and Alex Goode opened the way for winger Short to cross.
Farrell landed the touchline conversion, but another Flood penalty reduced the deficit to 16-9 at the break.
Farrell added another three-pointer just after the restart and, though Leicester looked more businesslike, Flood missed two out of three penalty opportunities when he could have made it a one-point match.
Remarkably, Saracens had decided on their starting scrumhalf with the toss of a coin. Neil de Kock called correctly and played the opening 50 minutes, with Richard Wigglesworth coming on as his planned replacement.
Saracens, who beat Leicester home and away in the league this season, had to dig deep defensively as their vastly experienced opponents gradually ratcheted up the pressure, but they gave away another penalty after 68 minutes which Flood landed to bring his team back within four points.
Farrell, the son of former England union and league international and current assistant Saracens coach Andy, showed the nerve of a veteran to stretch it back to seven with another shot from the touchline, only for Flood to reply immediately.
Giant wing Alesana Tuilagi then looked set to score the try Leicester needed, only to be hauled down brilliantly by Brits. Leicester’s forwards were camped on the line in a furious series of late surges that went through 33 phases and deep into stoppage-time, but this time Saracens were not to be denied.
Ireland’s Munster won their second Magners League title in three years with a gritty 19-9 win over provincial rivals Leinster in Limerick on Saturday.
Leading 7-3 at halftime, Munster’s defense held firm in the face of sustained pressure after the break, before a try from Keith Earls and a penalty try late on took the game away from Heineken Cup winners Leinster.
“It was a fantastic game and a fantastic advert for the Magners League,” Munster coach Tony McGahan told the BBC. “The game had great intensity and we just had a few things go our way.”
Doug Howlett touched down in the corner in the 12th minute and Ronan O’Gara converted to give Munster an early lead, before a Jonathan Sexton penalty reduced the deficit to just four at the interval.
Leinster laid siege to the Munster try-line after the break and when Donncha O’Callaghan was sin-binned, Sexton knocked over the resultant penalty.