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Aviva Premiership: Saracens 40 Exeter 22

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It was a game of two halves for the Saracens against Exeter Chiefs at Vicarage Road in the final regular season game in the Aviva Premiership. The first was dour, error riddled and felt interminably long. The second half they came alive and played expansive, exciting rugby.

Saracens Director of Rugby, Mar McCall laid the scrappy first half performance on silly errors not allowing them to build pressure.

“The first half were pretty inaccurate, we made a lot of mistakes, some set piece errors, some handling errors and breakdown errors and that didn’t allow us to build any pressure against them.”

But the second half showed detractors that Saracens have come back from a tough month and are still a force in the Premiership.

“It was important for us today going forward to the semi-final to play a little differently [to the past few weeks].”

In the end it was 40-22 to Sarries, with two late tries to Exeter lending some credibility to the scoreline, in a game the Chiefs had to win to have any hope of making it to the finals.

The teams traded penalty goals early on converted by their respective fly-halves, Gareth Steenson for Exeter and Owen Farrell for Saracens.

Sarries were lacking their characteristic composure pushing passes, turning over ruck ball, Farrell was missing gettable penalties and the lineout was in disarray.

It was as a result of a lineout error two metres out, that Exeter scored the first try of the match through flanker Tom Johnson, busting through two phases after Saracens’ hooker, Schalk Brits’ wayward throw. Steenson duly converted.

Farrell kept Sarries in the game with two more penalties, for the teams to be 10-9, to the Chiefs at half time.

Whatever McCall said at half time was transformative. While Short’s try only two minutes in was somewhat fortuitous, he happily receiving a misdirected chip from Exeter centre Bryan Rennie that went straight to him, for an against the run-of-play breakaway try. It had the effect of swinging the momentum to the home team and they clicked into gear running in a further three tries.

First, prop Rhys Gill ran straight and hard punching through Exeter’s defence for a try under the sticks on the back of a Mouritz Botha drive, after the Chiefs lost a lineout in their own 22, returning the favour after the Chief’s first half try.

Next, Charlie Hodgson, coming off the bench, linked with Farrell and fullback Alex Goode keeping the ball alive and moving it quickly through the hands for Goode to scoot over.

Then finally, Hodgson ran a great angle cutting open some shabby defence to score himself for Sarries’ third try.

Farrell after some first half yips in front of the goal converted all tries and added a penalty for good measure.

With a quarter remaining the game was essentially over, and with that Exeter’s season, but showing heart they scored two tries in the last seven minutes, to round out a promising season, in fifth place on the table, encouragingly in only their second year in the Premiership.

Saracens finish the regular season third despite winning more games, but with fewer bonus points than their second placed rival, and semi final opponent and host Leicester. Next week’s game will decide who plays in the Grand Final in two week’s time.

Saracens

Tries: Short (42), Gill (47), Goode (62), Hodgson (67)

Cons: Farrell (43, 48, 63, 69)

Pens: Farrell (12, 28, 33, 60)

15 Alex Goode; 14 David Strettle;13 Chris Wyles; 12 Brad Barritt; 11 James Short; 10 Owen Farrell; 9 Richard Wigglesworth; 1 Rhys Gill; 2 Schalk Brits; 3 Carlos Nieto; 4 Steve Borthwick (c); 5 Mouritz Botha; 6 Jackson Wray;7 Justin Melck; 8 Ernst Joubert.

Res: 16 Jamie George; 17 John Smit; 18 Matt Stevens; 19 George Kruis; 20 Will Fraser; 21 Neil de Kock; 22 Charlie Hodgson; 23 Joe Maddock.

Exeter

Tries: Johnson (15), Budgen (73), Jess (75)

Cons: Steenson (16, 74)

Pens: Steenson (3)

15 Luke Arscott; 14 Phil Dollman; 13 Sirelli Naqelevuki; 12 Bryan Rennie; 11 Matt Jess; 10 Gareth Steenson; 9 Kevin Barrett; 1 Ben Moon; 2 Chris Whitehead; 3 Craig Mitchell; 4 Tom Hayes (c); 5 James Hanks; 6 Tom Johnson; 7 James Scaysbrook; 8 Richard Baxter.

Res: 16 Neil Clark; 17 Brett Sturgess; 18 Chris Budgen; 19 Aly Muldowney; 20 Ben White; 21 Junior Poluleuligaga; 22 Ignacio Mieres; 23 Nic Stestaret.

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