Chris Ashton's indiscipline for Saracens gives Exeter their chance

Exeter 14 Saracens 12

Sandy Park

If Saracens travelled light to the dark depths of Devon yesterday – a high-risk strategy, as the former Premiership champions' selector-in-chief Mark McCall readily admitted – they at least had the country's premier strike runner on the right wing. But while the lights appeared to be on in the mind of Chris Ashton, there was no one at home at the turning point of contest. Not for the first time in his career, Ashton did something daft when there was no particular need for him to do anything at all. As a result, a heavy price was paid.

Nine minutes into the second half, the England back could be seen joining a fractious maul that was just about running out of steam. The problem? He joined it shoulder first, making contact with the Exeter wing Matt Jess in the process. James Phillips, the unusually substantial home flanker, was sufficiently annoyed to send Ashton flying with a double-handed shove. Worse, the referee Sean Davey requested a television review of the incident and having been informed of the circumstances, pointed the miscreant in the direction of the sin bin.

During Ashton's enforced absence, Exeter scored the only try of a game that was as tight as a military bandsman's snare drum from first minute to last: clever work off a line-out from Chris Whitehead and James Scaysbrook and intelligent decision-making from Will Chudley allowing Jess to send the Fijian centre Sireli Naqelevuki sliding in at the left corner, just where Ashton would have been defending had he not been sitting in the stand.

McCall was far from convinced that the original incident should have been reviewed in the first place, on the grounds that there had been no suggestion of "serious foul play" – the starting point for any intervention by the so-called Television Match Official. He had a point, but as the current system is about as consistent as the Liberal Democrats' approach to university tuition fees, it was not an argument he was likely to win.

Rather than venture down that rocky road, he talked about discipline instead. Or rather, lack of discipline. "I didn't have a good view of what Chris did, but it was a rash act and the consequences can be pretty big in a game like that," the Ulsterman said. "They scored a try down his wing and ultimately it cost us the game."

Well ... yes and no. It could be argued that Saracens cost themselves the game when they decided to leave players as influential as the hooker Schalk Brits, the prop Matt Stevens, the lock Steve Borthwick, the No 8 Ernst Joubert and the stand-off Charlie Hodgson out of the starting line-up. Borthwick would certainly have dragged the visitors up by their bootlaces during a first half largely dominated by Exeter, who were driven along by the boot of Ignacio Mieres and the all-round excellence of the full-back Luke Arscott.

"We understand that there are downsides to the rotation system we use," acknowledged McCall afterwards, "but we also feel there are significant upsides, and that the proof of the pudding will come next May when our most experienced players are still fresh." The policy may well pay dividends: no one knows this better than Exeter, who adopted a similar approach in their promotion season in 2010. All the same, it is a difficult idea to sell to travelling supporters when they see a third of the front-line team play a mere 30 minutes of rugby rather than the full 80.

While Saracens took the best part of 74 minutes to threaten the Exeter line – James Short, worked free down the left after a characteristically high-class attacking intervention by Alex Goode, would have registered a match-winning five-pointer but for a brilliant tackle from Mieres – the Devonians, more obviously at home in the wind and rain, had chances throughout the game, if not in any great volume.

Frustratingly, they cramped their own style by putting themselves on the wrong side of the eagle-eyed Davey at the breakdown – none more so than the energetic flanker Scaysbrook, who must have felt more than a little victimised. "There was one penalty given against James when he was completely pinned at the bottom of a ruck and unable to move," said the Exeter coach Rob Baxter, in bemused tones. "At least we learnt the lesson. In the second half, we conceded only one penalty for not rolling away."

Exeter have been learning lessons, and fast, ever since they reached the top league. Yesterday's victory against one of the Premiership's most cussed, hard-bitten sides came just seven days after they had squandered a 14-point lead against London Welsh. A less resourceful bunch would have allowed that defeat to follow them around like a black cloud for weeks. As it was, they put it out of their minds instantly.

 

 

"We have a run of fixtures coming up, in the Premiership and the Heineken Cup, that no other Exeter side may ever experience," said Baxter. "We can either respond to the challenge positively by thinking of the great times we're about to share together, or we can approach the next few weeks thinking it will be too much for us." On this evidence, the chances of the latter mindset holding sway are distant indeed.

Exeter: Try Naqelevuki; Penalties Mieres 3. Saracens: Penalties Farrell 4 Exeter: L Arscott; P Dollman (M Foster, 62), I Whitten, S Naqelevuki, M Jess; I Mieres, H Thomas (W Chudley, 47); B Sturgess, C Whitehead (S Alcott, 63), C Rimmer, T Hayes (capt), J Hanks (A Muldowney, 59), J Phillips (B White, 51), J Scaysbrook, R Baxter. Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (C Hodgson, 66), B Barritt, J Short; O Farrell (Hodgson, 24-33), N De Kock (R Wigglesworth, h-t); M Vunipola (R Gill, 45), J George (S Brits, 45), C Nieto (M Stevens, 50), A Hargreaves (S Borthwick, 45), M Botha, K Brown (capt), W Fraser, J Wray (E Joubert, 70). Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Life and Style
tech

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker