Exeter Chiefs captain Gareth Steenson insists his side can be immensely proud of their Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign despite falling to Saracens in Saturday’s final at Twickenham.
The Chiefs slipped to a 23-6 half-time deficit in their maiden Aviva Premiership Rugby final, with Sarries crossing through Duncan Taylor and Chris Wyles, while Steenson himself kicked two penalties before the break.
But Jack Yeandle and England’s Jack Nowell scored in a second-half fightback for Rob Baxter’s side, narrowing the gap to just three points.
And while Alex Goode’s late try secured Saracens a 28-20 win and trophy double following their European Cup success, Steenson admitted it was an afternoon of mixed emotions
“It will probably take a few days to really sit down and reflect on it and from where we’ve come we can feel very proud of the achievements,” said Steenson.
“But when you get that close, the overriding feeling is disappointment because we’ve probably missed out on 30 minutes of the game.
“Whether that was us trying to get up to speed with the game I’m not sure because the physicality was there, we had the game-plan in place, but Saracens ran the ball at us very well and squeezed us.”
A club in the fourth tier of rugby as recently as 20 years ago, Exeter reached Aviva Premiership Rugby for the first time in 2010, while this campaign bettered all previous achievements, overcoming Wasps 34-23 in the semi-finals to reach Twickenham.
And despite their 17-point deficit going into the break, the Chiefs led an impressive second-half comeback with an all-changed front row, firstly crossing through Yeandle’s rolling-maul try.
With the crowd behind them, Nowell touched down in the corner following good work from Henry Slade with just seven minutes remaining. But Goode’s try prevented a grandstand finish, giving Saracens a third Aviva Premiership Rugby title and Exeter a heart-breaking finish to a scintillating season.
“We came out in the second half and got more territory, showed people the side that we are, clawed back to get within three points,” Steenson continued.
“It was disappointing not to be able to squeeze them in the last few minutes but that just shows the quality side that Saracens are.
“The atmosphere was incredible, it’s great to hear the Tomahawk Chop going even as we were arriving.
“That’s fantastic for us all, you could feel the buzz as we started to get momentum in that second half and you could feel the crowd pushing us through. We fed off it really well and it was just a little disappointing we couldn’t finish it off in the end.
“The support that we have in Devon is incredible, it’s just a shame that we couldn’t finish it off. The fans were all behind us and we’re really appreciative of that.”