Premiership: Saracens 38 Exeter 7
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Saracens will enter their Champions Cup final against Leinster buoyed by a drubbing of Gallagher Premiership title rivals Exeter at Allianz Park.
Although the league’s top two teams rested the vast majority of their stars for a fixture that served as a likely dress rehearsal for the climax to the season at Twickenham on June 1, it was still an impressive win.
And the five-try try rout has offered hope that Saracens could yet finish top of the table at Exeter’s expense with one round remaining in what would be a morale-boosting victory only given both sides are already assured of home semi-finals.
European champions Leinster await in Newcastle on Saturday as Mark McCall’s men chase a double that was given renewed impetus in changeable weather conditions that included sunshine, hail, strong winds and driving rain.
A tense first-half gave way to a glut of tries with two in three minutes shortly after the interval placing Saracens in full command, Alex Lewington and Nick Tompkins crossing.
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Making a late cameo appearance was Manu Vunipola – the highly rated England Under-20 fly-half who is a cousin of Mako and Billy Vunipola.
An uneventful opening quarter was drawing to a close when Australian lock Will Skelton mistimed a tackle on Phil Dollman as the full-back was catching the ball.
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It was a bruising collision that saw Dollman land on his back with his head whipping backwards and Skelton was sent to the sin-bin by referee Ian Tempest.
Exeter, who saw their number 15 pass his head injury assessment, stepped up their control of territory and possession in Skelton’s absence and began laying siege to the line.
They were met with ferocious defending, however, and it was this stubborn resistance that effectively broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute.
Prop Vincent Koch stripped Luke Cowan-Dickie in the tackle and Richard Wigglesworth cleared only for a gust of wind to sweep the ball back towards the home whitewash.
The intervention from weather conditions that could change in an instant enabled Wigglesworth to reach his kick and hack it into the path of Lewington, who was able to grab and touch down under the posts.
After a comparative lack of action in a first-half that Saracens edged 7-0, the second period began with a two-try salvo in three minutes to sweep the match beyond Exeter’s reach.
The first was orchestrated by the wizardry of Max Malins who took the ball close to the ruck, darted forward and picked out Lewington, whose clever line swept him under the posts once again.
Skelton was the architect of the second by using his giant frame to power through a dense wall of white shirts, surging forwards and bumping off Gareth Steenson before feeding Nick Tompkins the scoring pass.
Malins was becoming an increasingly influential figure and the 22-year-old playmaker underlined his value by making a try-saving tackle on wing Tom O’Flaherty.
Saracens came under pressure and were close to receiving a second yellow card – most likely for Skelton who was replaced shortly after – as they sought to defend their line at any cost.
It was only delaying the inevitable, however, and flanker Sean Lonsdale was able to burrow over from close range.
Tom Whiteley landed a penalty to place Saracens 24-7 ahead and when Dom Morris jinked his way over from the 22, the bonus point was in the bag.
To rub salt into Exeter’s wounds, Morris picked off an intercept for a late second try.