Cool Saracens power their way to Aviva Premiership glory over Exeter Chiefs in the Twickenham heat
PUBLISHED: 17:04 26 May 2018
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Saracens produced a stifling performance in the Twickenham heat to smother Exeter Chiefs with a 27-10 win in the Aviva Premiership final.
They were their usual relentless selves, marrying strength and power with guile and speed when needed, to grind down their west country opponents.
They never gave Exeter much of a sniff and deservedly ran out winners, scoring four tries to the Chiefs one.
The weather made it a test of endurance as well as skill with Rugby HQ was bathed in balmy temperatures more akin to the south of Spain than the west of London.
And the inferno of heat was added to by an inferno of noise as Saracens got things underway.
And backed by their raucous fans, and a fair few of the neutrals too judging by the noise, it was Exeter who enjoyed the most of the ball in the opening exchanges and Joe Simmonds penalty gave them the lead.
But it was noticeable that they hadn’t really turned the Saracens defensive line during that period despite the possession and the Allianz Park-based side showed them how it was done with two tries in the space of four minutes.
Both owed much to the persistence of Alex Goode.
The first saw him chase a kick ahead, wildly thrashing at it with arms and legs despite the attention of a number of defenders.
But he recovered the ball and after a few phases close to the line, Billy Vunipola barge his way over.
Four minutes later a slow and patient build-up was given fresh impetus by Goode’s arrival in the line and he shovelled the pass out wide for Chris Wyles to go over on the corner.
It was the end of the scoring for the half but the pattern was the same.
When Exeter had the ball they faced an impenetrable white wall and the frustrations meant they tried to force passes, which ultimately ended in the ball being lost.
However, it was the opposite for Saracens.
When they went forward, they looked like breaking the Chiefs’ ranks with ease and when they did, only small margins prevented them from adding to the lead.
And to the Chief’s chagrin, the pattern failed to change after the break, concluding in Wyles getting his second.
It was sheer power down the middle which worked this time, sucking Exeter defenders in and freeing up space out wide.
And when you’ve got players like Owen Farrell, those sorts of opportunities are rarely passed up and via his hands, and Goode again, Wyles was given the freedom of Twickenham to go over in the corner.
It led to seven replacements in quick succession as Exeter looked to change the momentum.
At first it looked like doing nothing but suddenly they were behind the white lines and everything changed.
Olly Woodburn had taken them there and it led to Schalk Brits, giving a rapturous ovation on his last appearance, a yellow card on the hour mark.
Exeter needed to score and that they did with Gareth Steenson scoring with a bending run before adding the conversion.
Suddenly there was hope, suddenly there was a sniff of a comeback and Saracens were rocking.
The loss of Farrell looked like another pro in the Chiefs’ favour but a great catch by Sean Maitland from a big up and under turned the game back into Saracens favour.
There was a little bit of luck in there as well as a kick ahead bounced off an Exeter player and rebounded back into a white hand and Ben Spencer gobbled up a penalty in front of the posts to send relief through the Saracens fans.
Brits returned at that moment too and that was that.
Saracens put on their final replacements, including taking off man of the match Mako Vunipola, and finished the game in Exeter’s 22.
And to rub salt in the wound one of those replacements Nathan Earle dove across the line to seal the win.
Saracens: M.Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Isiekwe, Wray, B.Vunipola, Wigglesworth, Farrell, Wyles, Barritt, Lozowski, Maitland, Goode
Replacements: Brits, Barrington, Figallo, Skelton, Rhodes, Spencer, Bosch, Earle
Tries: B.Vunipola 15, Wyles 19, 47, Earle 79
Conversions: Farrell 15, 47
Penalties: Spencer 71
Exeter: Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Francis, Lees, Hill, Ewers, Armand, S.Simmonds, White, J.Simmonds, Woodburn, Hill, Slade, Nowell, Turner
Replacements: Yeandle, Moon, Holmes, Skinner, Waldrom, Townsend, Steenson, Whitten
Tries: Steenson 63
Conversions: Steenson 63
Penalties: J.Simmonds 6
HT: Saracens 12 Exeter Chiefs 3
Referee: Wayne Barnes