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Leicester Tigers to face Saracens in first Premiership final in nine years

George Ford is leaving to join Sale next season. David Rogers/Getty Images

Leicester will face Saracens in their first English rugby Premiership final in nine years after they survived a severe test from local rivals Northampton to emerge 27-14 winners in a bruising semifinal at Welford Road on Saturday.

Leicester's opponents in the final, Saracens, beat holders Harlequins thanks to a hattrick from flanker Ben Earl in a feisty, high-quality semifinal.

Trailing, a man down and up against it early in the second half, Leicester hit back with tries by George Ford and Freddie Steward and Ford then made sure with a drop goal and penalty to take his tally to 22 points.

The win sparked wild scenes among the home fans, who for years lorded it but who have had to suffer thin times in recent seasons.

Leicester are England's most successful side with 10 league titles but the last of them came in 2013. That was their ninth successive final appearance but they then lost four successive semis and had not made the playoffs since until Saturday.

The final will be between the teams who finished first and second in the regular season -- having finished last and second-last two years ago -- as head coach Steve Borthwick continues his remarkable rebuilding job.

"What a place, what a club, what a set of people," said Ford, who is leaving to join Sale next season and paid tribute to teammates Ben and Tom Youngs after Tom's wife Tiffany died from cancer this week.

"Some things are bigger than rugby and that was for that family today," he said.

"I've been here eight years in two stints and I've loved every second if it and I don't think you'll come across a more traditional rugby club. I'm going to miss it greatly.

"We've got ourselves into a position to do something special next week. We're going to have to be at our very best but we can't wait for it."

It was 6-6 at half-time after two penalties each for Ford and Dan Biggar, but Northampton will wonder how they were not away and clear after winger Courtnall Skosan twice dropped the ball with the tryline beckoning while an Alex Mitchell try was ruled out by the TMO for the most marginal of knock-ons by Skosan.

Leicester began the second half down to 14 after a high tackle yellow card for Guy Porter and Northampton took advantage when sharp passing sent full-back Tommy Freeman over for the first try of the match.

Leicester hit back quickly with a great break and score under the posts by Ford, who also landed the conversion to earn a two-point lead.

A penalty each kept the tension high but the game swung Leicester's way when replacement Northampton prop Oisin Heffernan was harshly sin-binned for a high tackle and the home side drove on and a fizzing Ford pass sent Steward over to make it 21-14.

Ford missed the conversion but the fly-half made amends with a drop goal that sneaked over the bar and then rubber-stamped the win with a last-minute penalty.

"It's a tough pill to swallow -- they were the better team today," Northampton captain Lewis Ludlam said.

"We had the chances but we didn't finish them and they did. At the top end you have to take them."

Earlier on Saturday, Saracens beat holders Harlequins thanks in part to Earl, who was named Premiership player of the season this week,

The flanker capped a great all-round team performance by the hosts, who had to withstand a sustained last-quarter assault after losing three men to the sin-bin.

Saturday's victory means Saracens will return to the Premiership final in their first season back in England's top flight.