Exeter 9 Saracens 16 match report: Saracens maintain top spot with tough win

 

Saracens survived a late attacking onslaught from Exeter to maintain pole position in the Aviva Premiership with a hard-fought 16-9 win at Sandy Park.

Ben Ransom's first-half try, together with kicks from Alex Goode and Marcelo Bosch, ensured Mark McCall's men picked up their sixth victory of the campaign.

Rob Baxter's Chiefs countered with three penalties of their own through Gareth Steenson (two) and Phil Dollman, and were twice denied potential tries - through Ian Whitten and Tom Johnson - by TV match official David Sainsbury.

Saracens lost fly-half Charlie Hodgson to a blow to the head early on and it was Exeter who looked to set the early tone in attack. Winger Jack Nowell's first real raid brought an early penalty chance for the home side, but Steenson was unable to land the lengthy kick.

The visitors made the most of that let-off and took the lead when Ransom, on as the replacement for Hodgson, applied the finish following a surging run from Chris Ashton that cut through the heart of the home defence. Goode added the extras to give the Londoners a seven-point advantage.

The Chiefs rallied well and came within a whisker of claiming a swift response through Whitten. After a slick handling move from the hosts, the ball was worked from left to right to Nowell. He in turn fed Whitten, who, despite taking the ball at pace, was adjudged - via the TV match official - to have been felled just short of the line.

Steenson was sent to the sin-bin on 28 minutes for a deliberate knockdown, and it allowed Goode to extend the visitors' lead to 10 points with a routine penalty.

Although down a man, the Chiefs again responded brightly as they threatened the visiting line once more. Saracens did well to swamp the home attacks, but, when a scrum was dropped by prop Richard Barrington, it allowed Dollman to land Exeter's first points of the day with a 22-metre penalty.

But, no sooner had Rob Baxter's side brought themselves back to within range, they conceded a needless penalty in front of their own posts for pulling back, and up stepped Goode to slot the resultant kick.

With 10 points to make up, the Devon club knew they needed a strong start to the second period - and they got it as Steenson landed an early penalty after the visitors were pulled up for not releasing following strong breaks from Dean Mumm, Nowell and Dave Ewers.

But once again they let Saracens counter through Argentinian centre Bosch, whose penalty from just inside his own half just snuck over via the crossbar.

Steenson and Bosch both saw further penalty chances fail to hit the target, before the Chiefs threatened again, and the home side's efforts were finally rewarded with 10 minutes remaining as Steenson landed a third penalty.

The Chiefs now had the bit between their teeth and, when Nowell created havoc with a superb kick return, the home side worked the ball through countless phases to Johnson, who appeared to crash over for a crucial score. Again referee Tim Wigglesworth went upstairs for the spot check - and again the TMO ruled against Exeter, and Saracens did enough in the dying embers to hold on for a valuable win on the road.

PA

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