Lewis Moody signed off after 14 years with the Leicester Tigers by leading his boyhood club to the most thrilling Guinness Premiership grand final triumph over Saracens last night. The England flanker, who will join Bath this summer, has won everything there is to win in club rugby with the Tigers, but few successes will have felt this sweet. The champions retained their crown when Dan Hipkiss touched down a shock late try direct from a restart, after Saracens had just taken what seemed to be a decisive lead.
"It was a fantastic effort," Moody said, in a televised interview after the game. "I am going to miss playing with these lads. "We move on. It is a professional game, but there will always be a special place in my heart for Leicester, and to win it in this way was very special." Defeat was heart-wrenching for Saracens, who had battled all the odds. Their coach, Brendan Venter, had been forced to watch the game at home with his five-year-old son after being barred from attending due to disciplinary reasons.
They looked to have stolen the crown when Glen Jackson, their retiring fly-half who will now return to his native New Zealand to study to become a referee, gave them a point advantage from the kicking tee. But their glory was lost when Hipkiss snatched possession and barrelled over as time ticked away. The initial exchanges were memorable mainly for a sweetly executed tackle by Hugh Vyvyan, which prevented Leicester scoring in the corner through Tom Croft.
It gave his personal cheer squad immediate reason to tune up. Vyvyan, the Saracens lock, is one of seven brothers, and had reserved 100 tickets for his extended family for the final. Leicester did not have to wait long to breach the line, however. They scored the first try when Matt Smith, the centre, scuttled around the outside and eventually touched down under the posts. Saracens hit back swiftly with a try in the corner, created by Jackson and finished off by Ernst Joubert, their No 8 and captain.
Ben Youngs re-established the advantage for the Tigers, which they carried into a 20-14 half-time lead, as he jinked over. It was neat timing for the stocky scrum-half, and not just because it arrived on the stroke of the interval. Youngs, 20, has designs on the England No 9 shirt. It is never too early to prove big-match credentials, and Danny Care, the man currently in possession of the England scrum-half jersey, will be well aware his position is under threat when he lines up against the Barbarians today.
Leicester appeared to be strangling the life out of the pretenders to their throne when Toby Flood knocked over a penalty just after the break. However, Joubert would not concede. Immediately after Saracens retrieved the kick-off, their back-row talisman from South Africa rumbled over for another try. None of the Saracens players, least of all Joubert, deserved to end on the losing side, but they were left stunned when Hipkiss, who only entered the fray as a late replacement, had the final say.
* Compiled by Paul Radley