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Mark McCall hails Joel Tomkins’ return as Saracens see off Exeter

21:39 23 February 2014

Joel Tomkins of Saracens looks to escape the Exeter defence. Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Joel Tomkins of Saracens looks to escape the Exeter defence. Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

2014 Getty Images

Saracens boss Mark McCall was delighted with England centre Joel Tomkins’ first full appearance since missing the start of the RBS 6 Nations through a knee injury as his side beat Exeter 23-10 in the Aviva Premiership.

Tomkins, who was out for three months after damaging his knee in England’s 30-22 Twickenham defeat by New Zealand in November, paired up with fellow England centre Brad Barritt, who also missed the opening three Six Nations matches following foot surgery.

“It’s great to see Joel back,” said director of rugby McCall.

“In the first 20 minutes we were lethargic. We were a second off in everything we did but then Joel made a couple of important breaks and got us on the front foot.”

Barritt, who will rejoin Stuart Lancaster’s England squad on Monday, played for 78 minutes before being replaced.

Two powerfully-driven tries from front-row forwards James Johnston and Schalk Brits enabled Saracens to overcome a stiff challenge from the Chiefs.

Both were converted by former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson, who also kicked three second-half penalties

The hard-fought victory keeps Saracens in second place, a point behind Northampton, ahead of Friday night’s visit to in-form Bath.

McCall said: “Bath are on a roll at the moment and have been playing some good rugby.

“Their set-piece is very strong and it’s going to be a big battle.

“It was a mountain for us to come back from 7-0 down when they had a strong wind in the second half but we dominated the set-piece today.”

The Saracens boss added that former England lock Mouritz Botha, carried off during the second half after suffering a worrying-looking neck injury in a tackle, had been taken to hospital “as a precaution but I think he’s OK”.

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