Exeter Chiefs 24 Saracens 12: Sarries fall to defeat on trip to Chiefs
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Aviva Premiership: Exeter Chiefs 24 Saracens 12
Exeter extended their advantage as Aviva Premiership leaders and took another major step towards a home play-off by subduing Saracens 24-12 at Sandy Park.
A top-of-the-table clash - despite both sides being deprived numerous players through injuries and international commitments - did not disappoint.
Chiefs fly-half Joe Simmonds - younger brother of England back-row forward Sam Simmonds, who featured off the bench after suffering a shoulder injury three weeks ago - kicked four penalties and provided a key assist for full-back Phil Dollman’s try.
Exeter’s superior scrum was rewarded with a second-half penalty try, while Saracens claimed touchdowns from flanker Ben Earl and centre Marcelo Bosch, with scrum-half Ben Spencer converting Earl’s 33rd-minute touchdown.
Reigning champions Exeter, buoyed by victory over Northampton last weekend following a run of three successive league defeats, were quickly out of the blocks.
Simmonds landed two penalties inside the opening 11 minutes, while the 21-year-old also displayed a maturity in terms of marshalling Exeter’s back division as Chiefs looked to attack with first-phase ball.
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Saracens, though, weathered the initial storm, and they went close to wiping out the deficit when full-back Alex Goode delivered an inch-perfect kick that wing Chris Wyles gathered at full speed, but he could not evade the touchline and Exeter escaped.
And Saracens were soon on the back foot once more, with England lock George Kruis fortunate to avoid a yellow card for what appeared to be a deliberate knock-on, with Simmonds kicking the resulting penalty for a nine-point advantage after 27 minutes.
Saracens skipper Brad Barritt received treatment on two separate occasions following a knock to the back of his neck, and the visitors could not get going, despite Exeter being forced into an early change when prop Ben Moon limped off and was replaced by England international Alec Hepburn.
But they showed their quality when centres Barritt and Bosch combined 30 metres out to free Earl in space, and he applied a brilliant finish, cutting back inside at pace to wrong-foot Chiefs’ defence and claim a try that Spencer converted.
It was an unexpected setback for Exeter, yet they responded superbly and cut open Saracens’ defence just three minutes later.
Centre Henry Slade, the Chiefs’ most incisive attacker, again had Saracens’ tacklers retreating, and his pass to Simmonds saw Exeter’s fly-half rifle out a pinpoint delivery to Dolman, who finished impressively.
Simmonds could not add the extras, and Saracens responded with intent, claiming the final score of an entertaining half when Bosch claimed his team’s second try and trimmed Exeter’s lead to 14-12 at half-time.
Barritt did not appear for the second period, being replaced by 21-year-old Max Malins, who went to fly-half, and Alex Lozowski moved into midfield alongside Bosch.
And following a scoreless third quarter, Simmonds kicked his fourth penalty to move Exeter five points clear after Saracens were guilty of a scrummaging infringement.
Saracens, despite playing some adventurous rugby with ball in hand, were a distant second-best in the scrums, and Exeter continued asserted an advantage that ultimately led to referee Matt Carley awarding them a penalty try eight minutes from time.
It meant that Saracens left Devon without even the consolation of a losing bonus point as Exeter remained in pole position with just five regular season games left.