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Aviva Premiership Rugby European wrap: Saracens stay on track as Exeter Chiefs just miss out

Saracens continued their near perfect start to their Champions Cup defence with a bonus-point victory over Scarlets on a day of mixed fortunes for Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs in European competition.

Saracens rampant again

Mark McCall’s men pulled off a 44-26 victory at Allianz Park as first Mako Vunipola rumbled over to get the show going before Nick Tompkins – a late replacement for Brad Barritt – Marcelo Bosch, and Chris Wyles all followed.

Rhys Patchell kicked 16 points for Scarlets, but Michael Rhodes’ score capped a dominant display from the Saracens pack.

And having taken charge of Pool 3, McCall was thrilled with how his men are coping with the pressures of being defending champions.

“I think there were a lot of strong performances, a lot of strong individual performances across the team,” he said.

“Michael Rhodes had a really prominent game and carried really well for us, Mako [Vunipola], and Owen Farrell was magnificent for us.

“Nick Tompkins came in at the eleventh hour and did a really good job for us as well so some good performances across the team.

“We’re pleased we got the win that we wanted, we got the bonus point that we wanted.

“[We] did a lot of good things in the game, but also did some not so good things and obviously we don’t like to concede 26 points at home.

“We made some errors along the way and a few more handling errors that we would have liked, but that would be a bit glass half empty because some of the rugby that we produced was really nice.”

It was not all good news for Saracens, or indeed England, however as second row Maro Itoje came off with an injury after rolling awkwardly onto his arm that could rule him out of action in the coming weeks.

“Maro came off with a sore hand,” added McCall. “He will be examined and have an x-ray after which we will know more.”

Drop-goal costs Exeter

Elsewhere on Saturday, both Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints went down away from home.

Jim Mallinder’s side slipped to third in Pool 4 after losing 41-7 away at Castres, with the hosts racing into a 20-0 first-half lead to leave no way back despite James Wilson’s try.

And the Chiefs were left cursing their luck after Paddy Jackson’s late drop goal condemned them to a 19-18 reverse in Ulster.

Gareth Steenson booted all of his side’s points but was robbed of a happy return to his native Northern Ireland as his last-gasp drop-goal attempt just shaved the outside of the post.

But despite having a very bitter pill to swallow, director of rugby Rob Baxter insists their dogged performance shows they can still progress in the competition.

“I am hurting, but I am hurting for the right reasons because we have taken part in a blood and guts game,” he said. “Both sides went flat out and I don’t think either deserved to lose.

“We are distraught, and if you go in the dressing room the players are distraught, but there are things I know we can take forward.

“The only thing we can do is keep working hard and this gives us something to work on because we fought and had a willingness to stay in the battle and we will look to build from this over the next few weeks.

“I don’t think this means our European hopes are over.”

So close for Quins and Warriors

Exeter were not the only side to have their hopes dashed by a single point, as both Harlequins and Worcester Warriors went down by the same margin in the Challenge Cup to Edinburgh and Brive respectively.

Quins produced a stunning comeback from 31-14 down to lead going into the closing stages thanks to scores from Charlie Walker, Kyle Sinckler, Mat Luamanu, and two penalty tries – but Tom Brown won it with six minutes remaining with a good finish to make it 36-35.

The Warriors claimed a late bonus point thanks to Andy Short’s score, but let a 17-10 lead slip in the second half after Ben Te’o’s try to lose 25-24.

Perfect start for Cherry & Whites

But 2014/15 champions Gloucester Rugby continued their perfect start to this year’s campaign thanks to a 37-8 win over Benetton Treviso.

Calum Braley crashed over in the dying moments to secure the try bonus point after the in-form Matt Scott, Jonny May, and Lewis Ludlow had all crossed the whitewash, and  hooker Motu Matu’u toasted a memorable debut for the Cherry & Whites at Kingsholm.

“I was quite excited to get my first start at Kingsholm,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk about getting our first win under our belt at home and I thought we proved that, not only to ourselves, but also our fan base.

“It feels like I have been a part of this team for a while now and running out at Kingsholm actually gave me some goose bumps.

“The crowd played a huge part on the field and, I kid you not, I couldn’t hear the (lineout) calls down the other end of the field.

“I try to be the energiser and the guy who keeps everyone up and everyone on task. If I do my job well, everything else will fall into place.

“It was really important for us to get the bonus point and it will help us down the road in the European (Challenge) Cup.”

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