Exeter's play-off ambitions in pieces
MATCH REPORT: Exeter’s bitter rivalry with Saracens endured another traumatic twist as their Premiership play-off ambitions were dealt a potentially mortal blow by a 22-38 loss at the Barnet Copthall sports complex.
Following on from three losses to Mark McCall’s men in Premiership finals, they are facing another season without silverware because of a result that leaves them marooned outside the top four with two games remaining.
Exeter felt most aggrieved at Saracens’ salary cap breaches due to their rivalry dominating the league from 2016 to 2019, but on a level playing field in north London they were comprehensively beaten.
They led 15-10 heading into the second half but with a strong wind in their sails, it seemed doubtful it would be enough after the interval and the deficit was quickly reeled in by the hosts.
Owen Farrell was the heart of Saracens’ response as Sean Maitland and Nick Tompkins touched down, but the Chiefs also self-destructed by conceding seven penalties in the pivotal third quarter.
Each blow of referee Craig Maxwell-Keys’ whistle brought with it another debilitating setback, enabling their opponents to canter out of sight with a bonus-point victory.
Saracens march on, their course set for a home semi-final, and they were forced to roll up their sleeves for a bruising first half in which they drew first blood through a move of real precision.
It came from scrumhalf Aled Davies running flat across the pitch and finding Elliot Daly, whose in-out line and speed swept him over the whitewash.
There was an urgency to Exeter’s play as Olly Woodburn and Stuart Hogg counter-attacked down the right and Saracens, playing into a strong wind, were now struggling to escape their half.
Flyhalf Henry Slade was running on to the ball at pace and almost broke through in combination with Hogg, but the England playmaker was instrumental as the Chiefs crossed for the first time.
It took 14 phases in total, most of them pick and go from the pack, but Slade and Sam Maunder delivered the magic needed to unlock the defence with Sam Skinner producing the finishing touch.
Seven minutes later and the Chiefs were over again, Ian Whitten offloading to Woodburn, who broke through a tackle by Nick Tompkins and weaved over.
Exeter renewed their attack right from the restart as Whitten broke free, but then Alex Goode replied for the hosts as the game opened up.
Man of the match Farrell took centre stage as Saracens exploded into the second half, landing a penalty and then setting off on a break from his own 22 to launch a move that ended when Maitland touched down.
Exeter was now struggling to escape their half and – with the pressure building amid a high penalty count – they cracked in the face of a line-out drive that was finished by Nick Tompkins.
Saracens scrambled well to repel an attack and when the Chiefs were penalised yet again, Farrell was on target once more with Ben Earl putting the icing on the cake of a conclusive win.
Tries: Daly, Maitland, Tompkins, Earl
Cons: Farrell 3
Pens: Farrell 4
For Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Skinner, Woodburn, Townsend
Cons: Slade, Hogg
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Max Malins, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Aled Davies, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Theo McFarland, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Kapeli Pifeleti, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Jackson Wray, 20 Andy Christie, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Alex Lewington
Exeter: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Sam Maunder, 8 Jacques Vermeulen, 7 Richard Capstick, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Marcus Street, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Patrick Schickerling, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Josh Hodge
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace, Gareth Holsgrove
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Sources: PA & RugbyPass