McCall admits Saracens were well beaten after defeat at Exeter
PUBLISHED: 18:39 22 December 2018
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Saracens boss Mark McCall admitted his team had been "well beaten" after their 22-game undefeated record came to a grinding halt against Exeter Chiefs.
Chiefs’ 31-13 bonus point victory at Sandy Park took them three points above their opponents, who had not lost since being defeated by European Champions Cup opponents Leinster on April 1.
It was also Saracens’ first Premiership reversal for more than nine months - when Exeter beat them in Devon - as Chiefs avenged last season’s final defeat at Twickenham.
“We were well beaten today, and beaten in most areas, really,” rugby director McCall said.
“After a good start, we were good for 15 or 20 minutes and had a lot of control of field position and possession and probably could have been more than 6-0 up, to be honest.
“But thereafter, we allowed a lot of things to mount, really - mistakes in the back-field, avoidable penalties that we gave away, and a couple of set-pieces in there too when the score was 6-0. We piled pressure on ourselves.
“They were very good as well. Their kicking game was good today and put us under a lot of pressure. It was a pressure we couldn’t really alleviate.
“It was a very disappointing performance from us.”
Exeter’s triumph saw them regain top spot by moving three points above Saracens, and McCall added: “We haven’t had a setback for a while, or this feeling for a while.
“In the past, we’ve been able to use this as a catalyst for something better.
“Maybe these sort of things come along at the right time.”
Saracens lost skipper Brad Barritt to concussion in the first half, while flanker Michael Rhodes suffered a shoulder injury and Schalk Burger was sin-binned during the closing minutes.
England front-row forwards Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams scored tries, while Exeter also gained a penalty try 12 minutes from time before number eight Matt Kvesic’s touchdown secured a five-point maximum.
Fly-half Gareth Steenson kicked a penalty and two conversions, while Joe Simmonds added the final conversion to take Exeter past 30 points.
Saracens managed two early Owen Farrell penalties - they led 6-0 midway through the first half - but did not score again until the 76th minute when scrum-half Ben Spencer claimed a consolation try that Farrell converted.
Exeter were full value for an impressive win, and in toppling their visitors, they also put paid to the possibility - albeit an unlikely one - of Saracens recording an invincible season.
“The pleasing thing for me, and I said it before the game, the result was of secondary importance to me,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said.
“I wanted to come out of the game and know we’ve challenged Saracens, for the players to come off the field and go, ‘we can win these, there are areas we can put pressure on Saracens and do good things in the game’.
“At times, we made Saracens look a bit ragged.
“After the first 10 minutes it looked like it was us who had the discipline issue. At the end of the game it was Saracens who gave away uncharacteristic penalties and it looked like they had the discipline issue.
“If we play Saracens again, there are areas where we feel we can get some momentum against them.
“We weren’t faultless. I was frustrated with a couple of early penalties, which is playing into Saracens’ hands, but we worked hard, we were pretty tough and got through those things, and those are the qualities I was impressed with.”