Saracens come from behind to snuff Chiefs semi-final hopes
Saracens gave a convincing second-half performance to run out comfortable 40-22 winners over Exeter at Vicarage Road.
The home side trailed 10-9 at the interval but two tries early in the second half gave the hosts the impetus they needed.
The bonus-point victory was not enough to secure Saracens a home semi-final in the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs because of Leicester's home win over Bath, and they now face a difficult trip to the Tigers next weekend for a place in the final.
Exeter, who had already secured their place in next season's Heineken Cup prior to today, were first on the scoreboard when Gareth Steenson gave them a third-minute lead with a 35-metre penalty.
The opening exchanges were littered with errors with only an excellent run from James Short enlivening the proceedings. The Saracens wing collected a poor kick from Kevin Barrett to race past Phil Dollman but the move petered out as a result of a wild pass.
The hosts had their first chance for points but Owen Farrell was wide with a 45m attempt but minutes later the outside half was successful with a similar kick to bring the scores level after 12 minutes.
When Short carelessly knocked on in his own 22, the Chiefs had an excellent opportunity to score the first try but Sireli Naqelevuki was knocked into touch two metres short. However, Saracens again knocked on at the ensuing lineout and from the resulting scrum, Tom Johnson forced his way over under the posts for a try which Steenson converted.
Farrell then missed a glaring chance to reduce the arrears when he failed to convert a 30m penalty attempt from straight in front of the posts but he was on target with two penalties in quick succession.
Following an excellent scrummage drive by the visitors, Saracens were penalised. Steenson missed from 45 metres but his side still led 10-9 at the end of a very poor first half.
Saracens made a dream start to the second period, scoring two tries in seven minutes. They were first gifted a try when Bryan Rennie's chip ahead fell straight into the hands of Short, who raced 80m unopposed to score the try which Farrell converted.
The Chiefs then lost a lineout in their own 22, Saracens capitalised as Mouritz Botha drove on before Rhys Gill charged through some weak Exeter tackling for the try which again Farrell converted.
Saracens almost had another when David Strettle ran strongly to provide an opportunity for Short. The wing made it to the try line but Alex Goode's final pass to the wing was adjudged to be forward.
Farrell's fourth penalty extended Saracens' lead to 26-10 going into the final quarter before the hosts produced their best movement of the game with good contributions from Charlie Hodgson and Farrell creating the try for Goode which Farrell converted.
Hodgson then produced the moment of the match when he waltzed through a gap in the visitors' defence before rounding replacement full-back Ignacio Mieres, for a brilliant score. Farrell converted to bring his match tally to 20 points.
Exeter launched a rally with two late tries from Chris Budgen and Matt Jess with one conversion from Steenson, but it was too little too late.