Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall paid tribute to his side as they coped with 14 men for 70 minutes to claim an unlikely draw against Exeter Chiefs.
Titi Lamositele’s late try, converted by Alex Lozowski, earned the Aviva Premiership Rugby champions a 13-13 draw with their final opponents from last season despite Richard Barrington’s early red card.
And having trailed 10-0 early on, McCall was thrilled by the grit and determination shown by his team to secure two points and go temporarily top of the table ahead of Wasps’ clash with Leicester.
Huge character from the lads to grind out the draw today, thanks for the incredible support.
— Kelly Brown (@kellydrbrown) January 7, 2017
“I thought it was a phenomenal effort by the 23 who played,” McCall said.
“It’s as hard-earned two points as you’ll ever get and we’re delighted that we got those two points.
“We decided we would go 8 v 8 and then the responsibility fell to the pack. Having had a difficult day against Leicester last week to get the upper hand in the set-piece, which we did, was very important factor in the game.
“That left the backs to do a big job defensively on the front line, and to cover the backfield, and they did that superbly well.
“I thought it was an incredible display for lots of reasons.
“Obviously to lose a man as early as we did and go 70 minutes against a team of Exeter’s quality you have to fight, which we did, and then we showed a lot of effort and bravery.
“The players were incredible with how they coped and how they dealt with all the situations that arose.
“By the end it was a game they we really could have won as well so it really was an incredible effort.”
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) January 7, 2017
Barrington was sent off after ten minutes for a high tackle on Geoff Parling, who had to go off, and Chiefs moved ten points clear with a converted Jack Nowell score.
Gareth Steenson and Lozowski exchanged kicks as the visitors led by seven going into the final minutes, before Lamositele’s intervention.
And head coach Rob Baxter admitted there was some frustration at failing to take advantage of the extra man for most of the game.
Respect to Saracens for fighting back with 1 man down for 70 minutes.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) January 7, 2017
“I think we have to be disappointed,” said Baxter.
“To play with 15 men against 14 for so long and to get a little bit of space on the scoreboard and not convert more of the chances we created, especially five metres out, has ultimately cost us.
“We also have to be disappointed that Saracens controlled much more of the second half than we did.
“This was a top-four clash and to have that happen to us is something we will undoubtedly have to talk about next week.
“It has to be something that burns a little bit, just because opportunities like this you work extremely hard for, and you need to take them when they come along.”
Saracens: Goode, Maitland (Lamositele 14), Bosch (Tompkins 4, Taylor 52, Spencer 69), Barritt, Wyles, Lozowski, Wigglesworth, Barrington, Brits (George 50), Figallo (Koch 48), Itoje, Hamilton, Rhodes (Skelton 50), Brown (Burger 61), Wray
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman, Nowell, Hill, Slade (Whitten 62), Short, Steenson, Chudley (Maunder 64), Rimmer (Moon 48), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 52), Holmes (Williams 48), Atkins (Dennis 44), Parling (Lees 10), Armand, Johnson, Waldrom
Not used: Campagnaro
Penalties: Lozowski 2
Penalties: Steenson 2
Referee: Ian Tempest