Aviva Premiership final report: Saracens crowned champions of England as defeat of Exeter completes double success

Saracens 28 Exeter Chiefs 20: Tries from Duncan Taylor, Chris Wyles and player of the year Alex Goode add Premiership title to European Champions Cup success for Sarries

Hugh Godwin
Twickenham
Saturday 28 May 2016 16:55
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Brad Barritt lifts the Aviva Premiership trophy for Saracens
Brad Barritt lifts the Aviva Premiership trophy for Saracens

A try three minutes from the end by the Premiership’s player of the season, Alex Goode, put an end to a fine fightback by Exeter Chiefs, and sealed a first league and European double for Saracens.

It was Saracens’ fifth Premiership final to Exeter’s first, and for a long time beneath a slow-roasting sun at Twickenham, it looked nailed on that the London club would retain the title they won for a second time against Bath here last year, and emulate the double feat achieved by Wasps in 2004, and Leicester in 2001 and 2002.

But Exeter were not about to easily toss away all their hard work through the cold and rainy winter days, and by pegging the champions back from a 23-3 lead after 36 minutes to 23-20 in the frantic closing stages they contributed to a memorable showpiece finish to the English club season.

There is always talk of physicality in rugby, as if there is any way to play without it, but Saracens certainly put pressure on Exeter with the well-known staples of their game in the opening quarter. Phil Dollman and Will Chudley had their ribcages rattled under high balls from the witheringly accurate Saracens half-backs Richard Wigglesworth and Owen Farrell, while there were two breakdown penalties kicked by Farrell for a 6-0 lead – one from wide on the right, the other in front of the posts in the 11th minute after Exeter’s tighthead Harry Williams had taken a scrum down, and Sarries kicked for a line-out in the Chiefs’ 22.

Schalk Brits is tackled by Mitchell Lees and Henry Slade

In defence, Saracens deployed their aggressive up-and-in blitz, and when they had the ball in hand they kept Exeter guessing with the Vunipola brothers throwing passes that were so difficult to read, directly behind the ball-carrier.

Farrell had moved ahead of Wasps’ Mark van Gisbergen as the record scorer in Premiership finals, and the feisty fly-half’s third penalty on a ground where he has accumulated more than 250 points for England made it 9-3 after 26 minutes; Gareth Steenson, the Exeter fly-half and captain who topped the Premiership’s scoring charts as his club finished second to Saracens in the regular season, had kicked one penalty for the Chiefs.

Exeter’s infectiously catchy ‘Tomahawk Chop’ anthem had been ringing round the Twickenham stands but the “whoa, oh, oh” turned to “uh-oh, we could be in for a hammering” with two tries by Saracens in three minutes shortly before half-time.

Chudley’s box-kick in the 34th minute was an attempt to relieve the Sarries onslaught but it only invited Schalk Brits – stationed for just this purpose in the backfield alongside Goode, the full-back - to launch a knifing counter-attack. Chris Wyles tracked the hooker’s break and, after four more rucks, Farrell dabbed through the line for the unmarked Duncan Taylor to score near the left corner.

Duncan Taylor celebrates with Chris Ashton after scoring a try for Saracens

Farrell’s faultless kicking had won the European Champions Cup final for Saracens against Racing 92 in Lyon a fortnight ago, when there were no tries scored.

Here Exeter were unable to contain the ‘Men in Black’, and sadly the underdog Chiefs’ England centre Henry Slade was culpable in the second try. Farrell fired a long miss-pass to the left wing where Slade appeared to have Wyles well covered as made a challenge high up his opponent’s body. Instead the USA international shrugged the tackle off and suddenly had a clear 30-metre run to the line, with Jack Nowell unable to catch him. Farrell’s pair of conversions had Saracens 23-3 up, and Steenson’s penalty bang on the half-time whistle only highlighted how rarely Exeter had been in Saracens territory.

The message to Exeter from their long-serving head coach Rob Baxter must have been simple: do not die wondering; play your game. And there was the knowledge that Saracens had a wobbly third quarter against Leicester in last week’s semi-final.

Exeter fans celebrate their side's opening try through Jack Yeandle

It happened again, and then some, as Exeter roused themselves and the crowd, with Slade initiating an attack early in the second half that was looking good until Williams put his head down instead of seeking space and ran into the turnover specialist, Maro Itoje.

Soon enough, though, Exeter had their first try. A scrum penalty on the Sarries 22-metre line in the 52nd minute was kicked to touch by Steenson, who waved his arms frantically to whip the spectator noise up. Geoff Parling caught the line-out throw, Exeter’s backs piled into the drive in a style Saracens often use themselves, and Exeter’s replacement hooker Jack Yeandle applied the finish, with Steenson adding an excellent conversion.

Exeter tried a repeat move soon afterwards but Slade, to his undisguised annoyance, knocked on in the backs.

Alex Goode scores the crucial third try for Saracens

Sure enough, Saracens unleashed their own all-in maul in the 71st minute, and as the ball squirted from the pack’s grasp the scene was akin to one of those medieval Shrove Tuesday village-on-village affairs as the backs poured through after it.

That danger having been cleared by Exeter, Slade redeemed himself by slipping Taylor’s flying tackle to surge into the Saracens 22 and flinging a pass while he stumbled to Dollman who fed on to Nowell. The England wing powered past Alex Goode and Billy Vunipola, the conversion went over from Steenson, and thrillingly there were three points in it with seven minutes remaining.

It took one last push from Saracens to secure the title, and the double. Marcelo Bosch, on for Taylor, cut in from a wide position, kept his hands free in a gang tackle, and Chris Ashton’s sharp link sent Goode careering to the decisive try.

Alex Goode celebrates with his Saracens team-mates after scoring the third try

Scorers:

Saracens: Tries: Taylor, Wyles, Goode; Conversions: Farrell 2; Penalties: Farrell 3.

Exeter Chiefs: Tries: Yeandle, Nowell; Conversions: Steenson 2; Penalties: Steenson 2.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (M Bosch 74), B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell (C Hodgson 68), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock 68); M Vunipola (R Barrington 66), S Brits (J George 52), P du Plessis (J Figallo 52), M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes (J Wray 52), W Fraser (J Hamilton 71), B Vunipola.

Exeter Chiefs: P Dollman; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten (M Campagnaro 68) , O Woodburn (J Short 54); G Steenson (capt), W Chudley (D Lewis 65); B Moon (A Hepburn 47), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 47-68, 78), H Williams (T Francis 47), M Lees, G Parling (D Welch 64), D Ewers, J Salvi (K Horstmann 61), D Armand (Salvi 65).

Referee: W Barnes.

Official attendance: 76,109.

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