Last-minute Burns drop goal wins Premiership title for Leicester
LONDON: Replacement flyhalf Freddie Burns landed a last-minute drop goal to give Leicester their first English Premiership rugby title for nine years as they overcame a dogged Saracens 15-12 at Twickenham on Saturday (Jun 18).
First-half tries by South African forwards Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese had Leicester 12-6 up at the break but Saracens defended superbly for much of the second half before two Owen Farrell penalties brought them level after 75 minutes.
Leicester drove forward, however, and Burns, who was introduced as a 23rd-minute replacement for George Ford – having also come off the bench a few minutes into the semi-final – landed the drop goal, his first of the season.
It sparked wild celebrations from the massed ranks of Leicester fans, previously so used to Twickenham glory as they reached nine successive finals but starved of it since their last success in 2013.
It also marked an impressive turnaround under coach Steve Borthwick after they finished second-last in 2019 and 2020 – avoiding relegation only due to Saracens’ point deduction punishment for salary cap breaches.
They led the standings from the first week to the last this year and were deserved victors on Saturday, having made most of the running against a Saracens team hoping to win the title in their first season back in the top flight.
As widely predicted it was a tight game, but it opened up midway through the first half when Saracens scrumhalf Aled Davies was yellow carded for a high hit on Julian Montoya, and Leicester took full advantage, scoring two tries while he was off the pitch.
First Freddie Steward and Chris Ashton combined to make ground for Liebenberg to squeeze over and then a tap and go by Leicester prop and captain Ellis Genge caught Saracens napping and Wiese touched down.
That gave them a 12-6 halftime lead and, though Leicester were on the front foot for all of the third quarter, Saracens drew on all their defensive intensity to keep them at bay and stay within range.
The London side finally got their hands on the ball and earned two penalties that Farrell slotted to level it up.
Leicester’s Matt Scott was then yellow carded for thumping his shoulder into the head of the impressive Billy Vunipola but his team shrugged it off, going through the phases to set up Burns to land his decisive drop goal.
“I’m in disbelief right now,” Burns said. “The fight this team has showed all year. That’s my job to kick it but we were up against it and we pulled ourselves up from the depths again.
“I’m in shock. It’s everything. It just means the world. It chokes me up just thinking about it.”
The victory extended Leicester’s record English title tally to 11 and was a remarkable achievement for 39-year-old scrumhalf Richard Wigglesworth as he won his seventh having previously triumphed five times with Saracens and once with Sale.
Farrell gave credit to the victors too, saying: “They’ve played well all season and carried that into today. They stuck to the game plan and when we made mistakes they punished us.
“They were not playing anything in their half and I think it frustrated us.”