Saracens skills coach Joe Shaw admits Maro Itoje is playing like a veteran after the 20-year-old captained his side into the last four of the LV= Cup in a 35-18 victory over Exeter Chiefs.
The lock, who appeared for England Saxons last week, put in a typically dynamic performance as Sarries sealed a home semi-final against Northampton Saints.
Tim Streather, Nick de Jager (2), Catalin Fercu and Matt Hankin all dotted down for the hosts, while Sam Skinner and Tom James briefly sparked a revival from Exeter.
Reigning champions Chiefs will now travel to Leicester Tigers for their semi-final clash as Shaw was left purring over Itoje’s performance.
“He’s huge for us,” said Shaw. “The amazing thing about Maro is he talks incredibly well. He talks like a player far beyond his years but the main thing is he leads by example, people follow him because of what he does.
“He’s the heart and soul of the team and it was great to see the reaction he got from the crowd when he came off the field at the end. We’re incredibly lucky to have him and he’s got a fantastic future ahead.
“I think (the result) defines what this group is about. We score the two tries to go 14-0 up, they came back and led 18-14, and then we’ve pushed on and scored 20 points.”
Elsewhere on Sunday, London Welsh so nearly secured their first victory of the season before falling 17-13 at Newport Gwent Dragons.
Nick Scott’s try helped Welsh storm into a 10-3 lead, but the Dragons chipped away with Tom Prydie scoring the decisive try.
Leicester captain Sebastian de Chaves believes a two-minute period at the end of the first-half was the key to his side securing a home LV= Cup semi-final.
The Tigers found themselves 9-0 to Cardiff Blues before Fraser Balmain and Niall Morris went over just before the break to change the course of the game.
Tommy Bell, David Mele and an Adam Thompstone double turned the game into a 43-9 rout in the second period and ensured Pool 3 toppers Leicester will be hosting a last-four clash at Welford Road.
“We're four from four in the LV= Cup and it's really good to go back to the club and say we did that and we have got a home semi-final,” said de Chaves.
“We settled into the game and started to get momentum which was good. In the week leading up we spoke a lot about controlling the ball and maybe we got a bit too excited early on.
“But in the last ten minutes of the first half we put them under a lot of pressure and two tries in two minutes was a reward for the hard work.”
The loss meant Cardiff Blues, who had won their first three LV= Cup fixtures, finished second in Pool 2 after Northampton Saints’ 29-6 win over Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens.
Ahsee Tuala scored a debut try for Northampton as Phil Dowson, Jamie Elliott and Kahn Fotuali’I also crossed the whitewash, while the visitors were restricted to two Alex Lozowski penalties.
And Saints assistant coach Alan Dickens was particularly impressed by his side’s defensive efforts as they booked a second LV= Cup semi-final in as many seasons.
“We said at half-time that we defended a lot and after 80 minutes we said that too, but the pleasing thing is they didn't score,” Dickens explained.
“The energy and enthusiasm for the boys to make tackles and get back on their feet in the defensive line was evident.
“It's been part of our defence for the past two seasons that we don't want to give away easy tries and you saw that with our boys defending for their lives towards the end, even though the game was pretty comfortable.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Gloucester Rugby rounded out the pool stages in style despite failing to reach the last four with a 25-7 victory over Harlequins.
Gloucester dominated from the off as Dan Thomas, Jacob Rowan and Steph Reynolds all dotted down to make it three wins out of four in the competition – Ugo Monye notching Quins’ lone try.
Sale Sharks rounded out their LV= Cup competition with a straight-forward 38-3 triumph over Welsh side Scarlets but Bath Rugby let a 10-3 half-time lead slip as they went down 13-10 to Ospreys in a low-scoring affair at the Rec.
And London Irish’s frustrating tournament was brought to an end with another disappointing loss as Ally Hogg’s try double helped Newcastle Falcons to a 31-13 win – Irish the only side other than London Welsh to end the competition winless.
Saracens 35 Exeter Chiefs 18
Tries: Streather, de Jager 2, Fercu, Hankin
Conversions: Spencer 5
Tries: Skinner, James
Penalties: Sweeney 2
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Newport Gwent Dragons 17 London Welsh 13
Tries: Rees, Prydie
Conversions: Prydie 2
Penalties: Roberts 2
Referee: Darren Gamage
Cardiff Blues 9 Leicester Tigers 43
Penalties: Davies 3
Tries: Balmain, Morris, Mele, Bell, Thompstone 2
Conversions: Williams 3, Bell 2
Referee: Leighton Hodges
Northampton Saints 29 Wasps 6
Tries: Tuala, Dowson, Elliott, Fotuali'i
Conversions: Olver 3
Penalties: Lozowski 2
Referee: Steve Lee
Gloucester Rugby 25 Harlequins 7
Tries: D Thomas, Rowan, Reynolds
Conversions: A Thomas 2
Penalties: A Thomas 2
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Sale Sharks 38 Scarlets 3
Tries: Braid, Haley, Arscott 2, Brady, Fihaki
Conversions: Macleod 3, Ford
Referee: Neil Hennessy
Bath Rugby 10 Ospreys 13
Tries: Lane, Lahiff
Penalties: Davies 2
Referee: Dean Richards
London Irish 13 Newcastle Falcons 31
Penalties: Dorrian 2
Tries: Welch, Tuilagi, Hogg 2, Helleur
Conversions: Catterick 3
Referee: Ben Whitehouse
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