Schalk Brits and Vincent Koch won the English Premiership title with Saracens, who beat the Exeter Chiefs 27-10 in the final at Twickenham on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The result sees Saracens crowned English champions for the third time in four seasons.
The game was ferocious and played at a frenetic pace from start to finish. Ultimately, Saracens’ sturdy defence and exploitation of space were superior to Exeter’s adventurous attack.
Saracens’ players – ‘the wolfpack’ as they are affectionately known – were excellent across the board but the contributions of English quartet Alex Goode, Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje were particularly impressive, while USA wing Chris Wyles’ two tries were also decisive. By scoring twice, the retiring Wyles became only the fourth player in the history of the competition to bag a brace in a final.
Bar the opening 10 minutes, which belonged to Exeter, Saracens were in total control of this contest thanks to their unrelenting defensive system that left Exeter frustrated. Flyhalf Joe Simmonds kicked the Chiefs into an early lead via a penalty, but that was to be their last success in some time in terms of points scored.
Saracens landed a double blow to the Chiefs’ title defence with two quick tries by Billy Vunipola and Wyles. A banana kick over the top by Farrell was collected by Goode. From there, they had options out wide and when the ball was swung back on the inside, the big No 8 powered his way through the traffic for the first try.
Farrell was again influential in the next try when his long pass to the left took three Exeter defenders out of the equation, allowing Wyles to run into acres of space to score. Farrell missed the conversion and then a penalty on the stroke of half-time, but Sarries still held a handy 12-3 lead.
The match continued in the same fashion after the break, with Saracens dictating play and Exeter forced to defend. Soon Wyles was in again to score his second and Saracens’ third try to make it 19-3.
But the Chiefs were handed a lifeline when Brits, Saracens’ replacement hooker, was shown a yellow card for collapsing the maul. And the Chiefs needed no second invitation to strike as replacement flyhalf Gareth Steenson unlocked Saracens’ defence for a self-converted try within seconds of coming on the field.
With 15 minutes still remaining, it put the game on a knife’s edge as the Chiefs suddenly played with renewed vigour.
But Saracens shut down any chance of an Exeter comeback with a 10-point haul in the last five minutes as first Ben Spencer slotted a penalty before Nathan Earle put the final nail in the Chiefs’ coffin with a last-minute try to cap off a memorable Saracens performance.
Exeter – Try: Gareth Steenson. Conversion: Steenson. Penalty: Joe Simmonds.
Saracens – Tries: Billy Vunipola, Chris Wyles (2), Nathan Earle. Conversions: Owen Farrell (2). Penalty: Ben Spencer.
Exeter – 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand (c), 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Subs: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten.
Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Nathan Earle.
Photo: Henry Browne/Getty Images