Leicester overpower Owen Farrell-led Saracens in Welford Road cracker

Leicester Tigers' Dan Kelly dives in to score the first try of their Premiership win over Saracens
Leicester's gritty victory over Saracens keeps them in the race for a top-four finish in the Premiership - PA/Joe Giddens

Leicester Tigers 19-10 Saracens

It was not quite the 11-try thriller that Sandy Park produced, but it was still Premiership rugby at its best. If Northampton’s exhilarating victory over Exeter was the beauty, then this was the beast. Thankfully, both have a place in this sport.

Leicester’s victory keeps them firmly in the hunt for the play-offs and was built on a phenomenal forward effort. Just like last week, England duo Ollie Chessum and George Martin were towering, but it was Joe Heyes, the England tighthead, alongside loosehead James Cronin, who ensured that Saracens returned to north London empty-handed. The Tigers pack bared their claws and with that brutal engine room, the front row obliterated the visiting scrum. It was a massacre that the Welford Road faithful will have seen all too often.

“Heyesey is an incredible talent,” said Dan McKellar, Leicester’s head coach. “He doesn’t realise how good he can be. The scrum was an area where we thought we could assert dominance and he delivered. He has a chance of playing the Six Nations and that won’t do his chances any harm.”

The victory leaves Leicester just three points off the top four, admittedly with Bath hosting Gloucester on Sunday, and just two points behind Saracens. It was a conquering of Mark McCall’s team that ignited last season’s remarkable push for the play-offs and beating the same side by more than a score this season will have done the Tiger confidence little harm.

Saracens, shorn of their three first-choice looseheads owing to either suspension or injury, did play the prettier rugby. Owen Farrell, with speculation around his future swirling, was majestic at times; so, too, Elliot Daly. Some of Saracens’ first-phase work was sublime but they were bullied and battered up front by a Leicester team that, when their attack faltered, could rely on grunt to see them home.

The message from this young child to Owen Farrell is clear and here is the fly-half greeting his fan
The message from this young child to Owen Farrell is clear and here is the fly-half greeting his fan - PA/Joe Giddens

Farrell’s afternoon veered from the sublime to the shocking - mainly the former - with little in between. The fly-half threw a pass straight to Dan Kelly and Leicester took an early lead, but Saracens replied sumptuously.

The ball went through six pairs of hands before full-back Tom Parton crossed in one of the most stylish first-phase moves you might glimpse this season. It was deployed again in the second half, again to dramatic effect, but no score was forthcoming. Farrell converted the first-half effort and followed up with two pinpoint cross-field kicks as Saracens swept upfield. At the end of it all, Heyes tackled Maro Itoje off the ball and Farrell extended the lead to five.

Solome Kata of Leicester Tigers charges upfield during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Leicester Tigers and Saracens at Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium on January 06, 2024 in Leicester, England
Solome Kata's powerful carrying gave Leicester much-needed go-forward - Getty Images/David Rogers

A shanked Farrell kick gave Leicester the field position for a response, however. With Heyes motoring, Matt Rogerson bundled his way over. Pollard’s conversion gave Leicester a narrow lead, which might have been greater had Kelly’s try on the stroke of half-time not been ruled out for the tightest of calls.

Harry Simmons’ nifty finish gave the Tigers daylight, with the visitors not managing a solitary point in the second half and having to cope with an Itoje sin-bin. Leicester’s run - La Rochelle and Leinster await - is about as savage as they come, but this victory ensured the Tigers entered 2024 with the momentum that their tight work deserves.

Match details

Scoring sequence: 5-0 Kelly try, 5-5 Parton try, 5-7 Farrell con, 5-10 Farrell pen, 10-10 Rogerson try, 12-10 Pollard con, 17-10 Simmons try, 19-10 Pollard con.

HT: 12-10

Leicester: F Steward (Shillcock 72); H Simmons, D Kelly, S Kata, M Brown; H Pollard, T Whiteley (Youngs 55); J Cronin (Van Wyk 60), J Montoya (c) (Theobold-Thomas 71), J Heyes (Hurd 60), G Martin (Wells 71), O Chessum, M Rogerson (Hatherell 69), T Reffell (Cracknell 75), J Wiese.

Saracens: T Parton; R Segun (Lewington 68), E Daly, N Tompkins, L Cinti; O Farrell (c), G Simpson (Van Zyl 58); S Crean (Mulipola 67), K Pifeleti (Dan 8), C Judge (Hoskins 49), M Itoje, H Tizard (Isiekwe 49), T McFarland (Christie 68), J M González, B Earl.

Replacements unused: Manu Vunipola.

Yellow card: Itoje 56

Referee: L Pearce

Attendance: 22,119

Tigers earn deserved win over Sarries – as it happened

05:14 PM GMT

Mark McCall speaks to TNT Sport - 'There are a lot of things to be optimistic about'

On the Saracens performance...

“There were things I liked today and other things we need to to improve on. When you are in their 22 you have to take their chances. I liked what we did in defence. There are a lot of things to be optimistic about.”

On whether speculation about players (Farrell) moving affects the team...

“Not sure. Like I said before the game we have an injury list we haven’t encountered for a while. Having a cohesive team is not something we’ve had so far. Hope to have that coming up.”

04:55 PM GMT

Ollie Chessum is man of the match

On the win...

“We’re  really proud. That was a team effort, it was a massive, massive game for us and it was a full 80-minute game for us.”

On where that leaves them in the title race...

“The tale of the season is that it’s a bit of sprint. There are 10 teams in i. When you play Sarries it’s a Test match feel to it.”

More on the victory...

“We’ve been involved in some great matches [against] these boys, they’ve given us a couple of hidings so to win is great.”

04:50 PM GMT

FULL TIME: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

That’s it - a much-needed, vital win for Leicester. They overpowered Sarries who were completely dominated at the scrum. But for handling errors the hosts would have won more comfortably. Leicester are scrappers and scrapped well today.

04:46 PM GMT

78 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries are working hard, keeping the ball alive but Leicester are defending well and this match, you suspect, is all but done.

04:45 PM GMT

76 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

The hosts are in the Sarries 22, they are penalised but with time passing the visitors keep the ball in hand and that suits Tigers as keep them in their half and this match is theirs.

04:42 PM GMT

Here's that Simmons score...

The matchwinner?

04:41 PM GMT

72 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries are still very much in this contest. They have a penalty inside the Tigers half and Farrell launches the ball to the corner - great kick.

From the resulting line out they, however, gift possession to Tigers as Isiekwe is penalised.

04:39 PM GMT

69 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Great stuff from Saracens and it comes off first phase (line out) they create so much space so qucikly, they time their run, draw people before passing at the right time. This attack sees them move the ball down the line before Lewington is played into on the right. The pass wasn’t pinpoint, however, and he is able to be tackled as a result.

04:34 PM GMT

66 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Another Leicester knock on, this one in the Sarries 22 and from Chessum. I make that the 13th handling error from the hosts. Had they been more sharp this match could well have been over by now.

04:33 PM GMT

Hayes for England?

This is turning into a scrum obliteration at Leicester. Saracens might have played the more stylish rugby, but they now trail by nine points having been demolished up front. A reminder, too, that Leicester tighthead Joe Heyes is capped and has been on Steve Borthwick’s England radar for some time.

04:31 PM GMT

64 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

The play is really breaking up and it’s not overly obvious that Sarries are a man down. But as I type Tigers win a penalty and will kick into the visitors’ half.

04:30 PM GMT

62 mins: Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Sarries need to do two things (i) stay away from the scrum, and (ii) need Farrell to find his kicking boots again and find territory from which they can attack.

04:27 PM GMT


Leicester 19- 10 Saracens

Scrum for Sarries in their 22 but this time the Tigers really show their power. The visitors are rocked back and it’s a penalty to the hosts.

Take the points? They have to convert this pressure into points...

BUT NO, they go for another scrum and it’s the right decision as they go to the shortside and Simmons scores his first try in the right corner. Bravo. They’ve been well on top the past 10 minutes and now have a try to show for it.

Pollard then knocks the conversion over right from the touchline. Great stuff.

04:24 PM GMT

Thunderous contest so far

This one might have been low on scores but it has not been low on quality. A thunderous contest so far, full of everything which makes the Premiership great, and there is surely a thrilling finish in store.

04:23 PM GMT

57 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

From the resulting scrum, five metres out, they ship the ball wide but there’s a knock on with the line crying out at them. Oh dear, they had to convert this pressure into points, these handling errors - 12 now this match - could well cost them.

04:21 PM GMT

55 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

From the resulting line out Sarries are again penalised for closing the gap (Itoje the man at fault). It’s a Tigers scrum (no shock there - it’s the hosts MO).

Sarries have stopped the line out can they stop the scrum? No, they are again penalised and Wiese takes a tap and go. They are offside and this time the yellow card is shown. Can be no complaints really...though as I type that Austin Healey on commentary says: ‘that is super harsh.’

04:18 PM GMT

53 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Scrum penalty for the hosts and they kick for touch. That earns them valuable territory from where they move through the phases, keeping the ball in hand. Sarries are then penalised for not moving away and the hosts again kick for touch.

04:16 PM GMT

51 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

There have been one or two mistakes this half which were absent in the first 40. Cinti here knocks on after good work from his Sarries team-mates.

04:14 PM GMT

48 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Steward is made to look as though he has butterfingers as a long kick won’t sit down/behave for him and he deflects it into touch. From there Sarries have a line out and a decent enough attacking platform inside the hosts’ half. But the Leicester defence is working well today and they can turn the ball over.

04:11 PM GMT

45 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Line out for the hosts in the Sarries 22. They create a driving maul and make yards towards the visitors’ line. The ball is moved infield but then they knock on after a great hit from Farrell on Chessum.

04:08 PM GMT

43 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Sarries have been well on top this half so far and they have a penalty in the 22. They kick for the corner and now have a line out from which to attack. They keep it tight and look to get the big boys to get over the gain line. They flirt with the whitewash BUT great defence from Tigers sees Mike Brown pickpocket the Londoners and Pollard is then able to kick away the danger.

04:06 PM GMT

43 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Farrell has kicked brilliantly today and he puts another bang on the money - a mini up and under into the Tigers’ 22. But Whiteley takes it with aplomb on the move. As good a bit of cover defence as you’ll see.

04:04 PM GMT

42 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Sarries were on the front foot from the restart but Tigers defend well and Farrell is forced to kick.

04:03 PM GMT

40 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Back under way at Welford Road. It’s been a great game so far - let’s hope the second 40 builds on the entertainment of the first.

Key for Tigers will be trying to win the territorial battle - if Sarries get on top in that area then it’s hard to see anything but a win for the visitors.

03:48 PM GMT

HALF TIME Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

That flew by and that’s because it’s a great, entertaining match. Two closely matched sides, both playing well and with little between them so far.

Farrell was intercepted for the first try, but he’s been in fine form and looks every inch the world-class operator he is.

03:47 PM GMT

37 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

Leicester think they have another try BUT there’s a bit of doubt. From a line out they work the ball out wide at pace and Kelly gets the ball in space, he pings his ears back before chipping ahead. He picks up the ball before diving over the line while under pressure from Daly.

Is it given? NO IT IS NOT!

If you’re Tigers fan that’s probably a try, if you support Sarries, you’ll say that’s the right decision.

What do you think?

03:41 PM GMT

35 mins: Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

The power game is very much in the Tigers’ DNA and that score illustrated that. It’s what got them over the line again Bath and it’s got them back in front here.

This is very much a good game.

03:40 PM GMT


Leicester 12- 10 Saracens

The hosts are in Sarries 22 and win a penalty, they go for a scrum. It’s big call, but they pride themselves on their scrum. Can they capitalise? YES. THEY. CAN. Wiesse goes off the back of the scum and gains a yard. They keep it tight before Rogerson dives over from close range - it was a shot to nothing as they had the advantage, but it’s very much a Leicester score.

Pollard adds the two points and the hosts are back in front.

03:37 PM GMT

Here's that Parton peach of try

03:37 PM GMT

30 mins: Leicester 5-10 Saracens

This is a closely fought clash between two closely matched sides. You suspect it will go the way of the side you can play at their maximum for longers.

Farrell is doing that right now. He launches two pinpoint kicks deep into Tigers territory in kick succession. His mind is very much on this game.

Saracens - and Farrell - are enjoying themselves now. A sweeping move has seen them go from their own half to Leicester’s 22, with two pinpoint cross-kicks from the fly-half at the heart of it all.

03:34 PM GMT

27 mins: Leicester 5-10 Saracens

Line out for Tigers, it’s in the Sarries 22, can they make it count? ‘No’ is the long and short of it...

They again go short, before the ball is moved infield. They work through the phases but are making no ground and then they knock-on. Oh dear!

03:30 PM GMT


Leicester 5-10 Saracens

Farrell slots home from in front of the posts, but it’s his kicks in the run up to the infringement that are really worthy of praise. Sarries were always going to try and stretch the Tigers defence and they do that though the boot of the fly-half. The hosts are indeed stretched and the infringement eventually comes.

03:27 PM GMT


Leicester 5-7 Saracens

Great try from the visitors. It’s off first-phase ball (off a line out) and it’s deadly. The ball is moved down the line off the back of the line out (the defenders are brilliantly pulled in) before it goes wide and comes to Daly who turns on the afterburners before passing at just the right moment and Tom Parton touches down.

Farrell adds the extras and Saracens are starting to purr.

03:23 PM GMT

17 mins: Leicester 5-0 Saracens

Steward looks injured (he’s holding his arm) but he’s staying out there. Sarries are in the hosts’ half but there’s a turnover and Tigers clear the danger by kicking into touch. But it’s a poor line out and Sarries have possession. Which they then kick away. Poor.

03:21 PM GMT

15 mins: Leicester 5-0 Saracens

Was Farrell’s mind elsewhere? It’s a seductive narrative but the idea that he’s already thinking about France is far fetched, he’s the ultimate professional and that try should be placed in the ‘one of those things’ box.

Farrell had started this game excellently... until that pass. He will not want to watch that back.

03:19 PM GMT


Leicester 5-0 Saracens 

Kelly scores the try but, as with the build up to the match it’s all about Farrell. The Sarries No.10 is in his own half and he decides to run the ball. His head is down as he tries to pass down the line, but it’s brilliantly read by Kelly who pickpockets Farrell and runs in unopposed from all of about 30 yards.

Pollard misses the extras and it’s an early (ish) lead for the Tigers.

03:16 PM GMT

9 mins: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

From the line out Tigers set up a driving maul, the visitors are going backwards and the hosts are over the line. There are a fair few yelps of ‘try!’ but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the ball was grounded and Luke Pearce rules it no try. Right decision.

03:14 PM GMT

7 mins: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

Great turnover from Tigers as Earl loses the ball. The ball is then booted brilliantly by Pollard and the hosts are in the Sarries 22. Great attacking platform.

03:13 PM GMT

5 mins: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

There’s a bit of kick tennis, and it’s very much a case of shadow boxing so far.

03:09 PM GMT

3 mins: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

From the resulting set piece Leicester go short - cute and effective - before they’re eventually bundled into touch and it will be Sarries with the line out. From there they’re able to clear their lines from the boot of Farrell.

03:07 PM GMT

2 mins: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

The conditions look good at the moment - the sun is shining and it looks fairly still. Let’s hope that stays the case and we see some good running rugby.

First penalty of the game goes to the hosts after Cinti challenges Steward in the air, there’s no malice in it but it’s an obvious pen. Tigers kick for touch.

03:05 PM GMT

1 min: Leicester 0-0 Saracens

They’re under way in the Midlands, it promises to be a cracker. Pressure is possibly more on the hosts today, defeat would affect their top-four hopes more than it would Sarries...

03:01 PM GMT

The teams are out on the pitch

And the focus can now, for the next 80 minutes at least, be on action on the pitch.

03:00 PM GMT

More on that young fan

There is a young fan here with a banner which reads “Owen, please don’t leave” and the Welford Road crowd have greeted the de facto England captain warmly. Farrell’s name was read out over the tannoy during the team announcements and there was certainly no booing.

Pre-match, Mark McCall was his usual reserved self, saying that his club “does not deal in speculation” but that, more generally, he understands why players nearing the end of their careers might want to leave for France and experience a different environment.

And now, after the talk, comes the rugby. Although we should expect this to rumble for some time.

02:58 PM GMT

How can you let this lad down, Owen?!

02:54 PM GMT

Aside from the Farrell speculation

Today will see the Sarries fly-half against the World Cup-winning No.10 Handre Pollard. They last faced each other in the World Cup semi-final when the Springbok came on after just 31 minutes as Manie Libbok was hooked for Pollard. The score was 9-3 to England at the time and Pollard did what he was sent on do do, marshal the side to an edgy, seat-of-the-pants win (just) 16-15.

Pollard is having an increasing influence on Leicester and he’s a Rolls Royce of a fly-half.

Handre Pollard
Handre Pollard

02:43 PM GMT

More on today's actual match...

Here are the two XVs...

LEICESTER XV TO FACE SARACENS: Steward, Simmons, Kelly, Kata, Brown, Pollard, Whiteley, Cronin, Montoya, Heyes, Martin, O. Chessum, Rogerson, Reffell, Wiese. Replacements: Theobald-Thomas, Van Wyk, Hurd, Wells, Hatherell, Cracknell, B. Youngs, Shillcock.

SARACENS XV TO FACE LEICESTER: Parton, Segun, Daly, Tompkins, Cinti Luna, Farrell, Simpson, Crean, Pifeleti, Judge, Itoje, Tizard, McFarland, Gonzalez, Earl. Replacements: Dan, Mulipola, Hoskins, Isiekwe, Christie, van Zyl, M. Vunipola, Lewington.

REFEREE: Luke Pearce (RFU)

02:40 PM GMT

Sarries coach Mark McCall speaks - 'We don't deal in speculation'

On the speculation Farrell will move to France...

“You know I cannot answer that. We don’t deal in speculation and we won’t do that here.”

On the more general topic of players leaving the Premiership for France...

“I think always two different cases. You need to keep the young talent in the Premiership, and the rule that to play for England you have to play in the Premiership is important. I understand if [older] players, who have had only experienced one club, why they’d want to experience [another club and culture]...but there’s a lot of good things happening in the Premiership and shouldn’t be talking it down.”

On Sarries’ form...

“I have been proud of our team so far this season. Had a lot to contend with, with the World Cup and injuries and we’ve done well. A lot of teams will have some momentum in the last bit of the season [after the European break] and I hope we’re one of them.”

02:28 PM GMT

The man of the moment...

...the one all the focus will be on today, has arrived.

02:25 PM GMT

What would a Farrell move to France mean?

The fly-half has already taken a break from international duty so it wouldn’t, in the short to medium term at least, impact on Steve Borthwick’s side. But the sight of a marquee player, one everyone assumed would stay with Sarries forever, moving across the channel isn’t a great look for the Premiership.

Here’s what Oliver Brown has to say...

Where once his eligibility for England was non-negotiable, it now appears a worthwhile sacrifice for his wellbeing. And where once the Premiership was his only natural habitat, the kudos of his home league has now been emphatically eclipsed by the proposition in front of him in France.

READ: Owen Farrell’s likely exit is a damning indictment of English rugby

02:16 PM GMT

So au revoir to Owen Farrell?

We’re sure to hear more on it before the match when the interviews are done and it will be interesting to hear what Mark McCall has to say.

But before that here’s our report on the speculation that Farrell could be off to France.

Midi Olympique and L’Equipe, France’s respective rugby and sport newspapers, reported on Friday that Farrell was in “advanced talks” with Racing 92 over a deal for the start of next season, reuniting with World Cup team-mate and England starlet, Henry Arundell. The outlets wrote that Farrell would sign either a two or three-year deal, with L’Equipe adding that a verbal agreement had been made between the two parties.

Read: Owen Farrell on verge of signing for Racing 92 and turning his back on English rugby

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrell

02:34 PM GMT

Tigers told to show bite against Sarries

Dan McKeller has called on Leicester Tigers to show the bite and ferocity they displayed against Bath before new year when they host Saracens this afternoon.

The Tigers beat the impressive west country outfit 35-22 in their last outing of last year. A performance and result that not only sent them into 2024 on a high but also underlined their title credentials after a patchy (at best) first half of the season.

Naming an unchanged XV to the team that beat Bath McKeller said: “The group that started against Bath came out with the required physical intent and were excellent for 45 minutes, so we’ve rewarded that, but we know we’ll have to be good for the 80 this week.”

Of the challenge they face against Saracens, the Tigers coach added: “Saturday’s another big challenge for us but it’s great to be home again in front of 20,000-plus of our supporters and families.”

As with their opponents today, Sarries, too, have not enjoyed a stellar first half of their domestic campaign. But boosted by their bonus-point win over Newcastle they head into the clash with several big-name players back in the fold and a wealth of experience to call upon. Owen Farrell is back at fly-half (more on him and the speculation of a move to France in a moment...)and outside him he has the returning Nick Tompkins and Elliot Daly to help him pull the strings in midfield.

The Londoners head to the Midlands knowing that a victory would put them in a strong position in the table ahead of the next European break.

As if to add to the idea that Saracens are only going to get stronger as the season progresses, Ben Earl and Rotimi Segun both returned to the side before the new year. And Segun is looking forward to the trip to to Welford Road.

“There is a good calmness around the group, we’re just taking it game by game. The league is unbelievably tough this year but we’re looking forward to each challenge coming up,” the wing said.

“It was a long 12 weeks out but was so nice to get back out there. We bounced back against Newcastle which is exactly what we asked for.”

Stay here for all the pre-match build-up and action, with kick-off set for 3pm.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.