South African hooker Schalk Brits went from villain to hero as Saracens beat Exeter 23-10 in the English Premiership.
Brits missed a tackle which enabled Exeter to open the scoring in the ninth minute, and then knocked on when Saracens had a chance to break away. But he made amends with a dynamic performance thereafter, capped by the decisive try shortly after half-time.
Saracens will be disappointed they did not get more from the match as they dominated possession and territory in the first half, but poor ball control limited their scoring to a drive-over try by prop James Johnston and kept the scoreline to 7-7 at half-time. Brits's try put Saracens into a lead they would not surrender. The only shadow over the win was the removal of South African lock Mouritz Botha on a stretcher after sustaining a dangerous neck injury.
Northampton were always in control as they beat Newcastle 22-16, a score made more dramatic by a late try from Newcastle. They maintained their position at the top of the table, one point ahead of Saracens.
With a comfortable cushion for the top two, the battle is below for the remaining play-off places. Harlequins missed the chance to secure their position in the top four when they went down 25-20 to Gloucester on Saturday.
Quins led 13-7 at half-time, but Gloucester, languishing in the basement of the Premiership, ended a run of three successive defeats with a second-half blitz which produced two tries in eight minutes.
Bath, however, sitting in third position, did what was necessary in a seven-try thriller against Wasps, winning 35-25. Leicester retook fourth spot thanks to a hard fought 20-15 win over London Irish at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday.
Bath 32 London Wasps 25
Gloucester 25 Harlequins 20
Worcester Warriors 12 Sale 24
London Irish 15 Leicester 20
Newcastle 16 Northampton 22
Saracens 23 Exeter 10
Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images