Brad Barritt in action for Saracens against Exeter Chiefs
23 February 2014, 05:22 pm ::
Saracens 23 Exeter Chiefs 10
Saracens kept up the pressure on Northampton Saints at the top of the Aviva Premiership table as scores from forwards James Johnston and Schalk Brits ensured they downed struggling Exeter Chiefs 23-10.
The boot of the ever-reliable Charlie Hodgson was also pivotal to Saracens' win as the veteran No.10 kicked a succession of second-half penalties to keep Exeter at arm's length.
Exeter started like an express train at the Allianz Park and took advantage of multiple Saracens' changes due to the international weekend as they raced into a 7-0 lead.
Centre Ian Whitten scored after just nine minutes, with the ever-reliable Gareth Steenson adding the extras as Saracens struggled to get going.
Despite dominating possession and territory, Saracens failed to get themselves on the scoreboard as countless forays into the opposition 22 saw them come up empty-handed.
Needless handling errors and an inability to find the final pass saw Saracens frustrated, with exiled England man Chris Ashton among the guilty party for the home side.
Even the prolific Hodgson missed his penalty attempt on 14 minutes as title-challengers Saracens struggled to break down resolute Exeter defending.
The removal of hooker Jack Yeandle in the opening quarter through injury seemed to rock the Exeter set-piece, with young England No.2 Luke Cowan-Dickie coming on as his replacement.
And after 33 minutes Saracens pressure final told as giant prop Johnston bustled his way over the try-line with the help of Mouritz Botha to give the home side a foot in the game, with Hodgson expertly adding the extras.
Saracens lost against London Irish in their last Aviva Premiership home fixture earlier this month and Mark McCall's men ensured there was to be no repeat performance, avoiding an unwanted statistic of losing two at home on the bounce for the first time since 2006 in the process.
Exeter Chiefs have not won on the road since round seven but their challenge against Saracens showed no signs of unravelling in the second-half as Steenson kicked the visitors back in front with a penalty on 47 minutes.
But the Chiefs, who have lost their last four games, committed a needless error straight from the restart, which saw Saracens handed a penalty, kick for touch and from the resulting lineout Brits was driven over the line.
Hodgson again added the extras as Saracens responded immediately to Exeter's penalty to get their noses back in front 14-10 with 30 minutes remaining.
There was a sizeable hold up in play just seconds later as England lock Botha suffered a head injury and was stretched off the field and replaced by veteran Steve Borthwick.
Saracens further extended their lead after 54 minutes as Exeter were penalised for a deliberate knock-on and Hodgson kicked the resulting penalty to take the score to 17-10.
And the former England fly-half turned the screw further just three minutes later as he kicked his second penalty in quick succession.
Saracens dominated possession in the final quarter but the home side's England trio of Joel Tomkins, Brad Barritt and Ashton were unable to find space to add a third score of the afternoon.
Exeter refused to throw in the towel but Hodgson ensured the scoreboard kept ticking over in Saracens' favour as he added a further penalty to make the final score 23-10 late on.