Saracens regained the Premiership title after defeated last year’s champions Exeter Chiefs 27-10 at Twickenham as the Vunipola brothers ran riot to show just how important they will be on England’s tour of South Africa next month.
Chris Wyles took the plaudits on his final appearance before retirement as he scored to tries that took the game away from the Chiefs, with Billy Vunipola also crossing for a first-half try and Nathan Earle capping things off with a fourth score in the dying seconds.
But it was the fit and healthy Billy Vunipola and man-of-the-match Mako that formed the platform for Saracens to dominate this final that sees the club clinch a third Premiership title in four years and the fourth in their history. Exeter may have finished top of the regular season table – and by some distance – but Saracens proved too strong, too clinical and too defiant to let this slip through their grasp.
Exeter were on course to break the phenomenal 93 per cent possession that they enjoyed in the first half against Newcastle last weekend as they dominated the ball in the early exchanges. In fact, Saracens’ only touch of the ball in the first 1
But more alarming for the Chiefs, the let-off appeared to snap Saracens into life. Nine minutes and 48 seconds into the match, they finally got their hands on the ball. Six minutes later they were over the try line in emphatic fashion.
Farrell and Goode proved the brains behind the move, Billy Vunipola the brawn. Farrell chipped smartly back against the flow of play and allowed Goode to charge through the Exeter defence to get his boot to it and eventually regain possession five metres from the try line. With space out wide, Farrell then kicked across field for Wyles, with Vunipola looping around him, and although he couldn’t quite nab the try then, seconds later he bashed through the defence off a ruck to score next to the posts.
Now in their stride, Saracens motored on and had a second just four minutes later. This time it was a lovely move through the backs that, again was triggered by Farrell and Goode. The former passed to the latter, who managed to somehow offload the ball above his head to Sean Maitland, and all he had to do was draw in full-back Lachie Turner, pass to Wyles and send the United States international in for a try in his final match before retirement, much to the delight of the Saracens replacements warming up in the dead-ball area.
If Exeter were rattled, they did well not to show it, as they got their hands back on the ball and returned to their familiar possession-based game. The only problem is that Saracens were giving them nothing in defence, but when Farrell nudged a penalty wide as half-time struck, the Chiefs will have felt that they were still well in the contest.
But that feeling ebbed away seven minutes into the second half when Goode and Wyles combined yet again down the left to send the wing over for his second. But to their credit, the sucker punch did not suck the life out of Exeter. While Saracens started to dream of victory, the emotion started to seep into the game as Schalk Brits came on for his final game before retirement – only to be yellow carded by Barnes six minutes later for a cynical penalty in collapsing a driving maul on the line.
With the advantage, the Chiefs would not be denied and the line was finally breached when Gareth Steenson beat Farrell to cross in the left corner. The Irishman, who last year kicked the match-winning penalty deep in extra-time to secure the club’s first ever Premiership title, added the conversion to cut the lead to nine points, but once restored to 15 men Saracens re-focused and never really looked like losing.
Wyles was denied his chance to bag a hat-trick as he was replaced with five minutes remaining, with his replacement Earl going over in the penultimate minute in his final appearance for the club to put the icing on the cake and start the celebrations.
Saracens are back on top of English rugby, and for a season that came so close to being derailed in the winter, you can’t say it’s not deserved.
Exeter Chiefs: Lachie Turner; Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Sam Hill (Ian Whittell, 49), Olly Woodburn; Joe Simmonds (Gareth Steenson, 49), Nic White (Stu Townsend, 59); Alex Hepburn (Ben Moon, 49), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jack Yeandle, 49), Tomas Francis (Greg Holmes, 49); Mitch Lees (Sam Skinner, 51), Jonny Hill; Dave Ewers, Don Armand (Thomas Waldrom, 31-40 HIA), Sam Simmonds (Thomas Waldrom, 67).
Saracens: Alex Goode; Sean Maitland, Alex Lozowski, Brad Barritt (Marcelo Bosch, 51-59), Chris Wyles (Nathan Earle, 75); Owen Farrell (Marcelo Bosch, 67), Richard Wigglesworth (Ben Spencer, 59); Mako Vunipola (Richard Barrington, 75), Jamie George (Schalk Brits, 53), Vincent Koch (Juan Figallo, 53); Maro Itoje, George Kruis; Nick Isiekwe (Will Skelton, 67), Jackson Wray, Billy Vunipola (Michael Rhodes, 59).
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