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Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 11 Saracens 14

07 Feb 2016
Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 11 Saracens 14

Charlie Hodgson’s late penalty helped Saracens avenge their double defeat to Exeter Chiefs last season and stretch their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.

James Short’s intercept try for the Chiefs in the first half looked for a long time like it would be enough to keep the Chiefs’ 15-match home winning streak.

But a Samuela Vunisa score just before the interval and three Hodgson penalties in the second half, the last of which came in the 74th minute, gave Mark McCall’s troops the victory.

Just two points separated the sides coming into the clash and with top spot in their sights, it was the Rob Baxter’s Chiefs who came out firing.

Olly Woodburn’s fine break round the outside on the right put them into good territory and when the penalty was conceded by a back-tracking Sarries defence, Gareth Steenson made no mistake.

The Irish fly-half kicked all 27 points for the Chiefs in this clash last season and his first penalty of the day opened up a 3-0 lead.

Sarries were playing into the wind in the first period and, having worked their way slowly but surely into good territory around the quarter-hour mark they were hit by a sucker punch.

Hodgson forced an offload with the try line in reach and the ball dropped to former Sarries man Short. The winger has been in superb form of late and no-one was going to catch him as he streaked clear for the length-of-the-field score.

Steenson’s conversion was pushed to the right so the hosts led 8-0 and they could, and possibly should, have had a second try moments later.

Swirling wind was creating havoc under high balls for both sides and when Chris Wyles and Ben Ransom made a mess of collecting another high bomb it was Woodburn who hacked ahead and Ollie Atkins dived on the loose ball but referee Tom Foley ruled it out for a dubious knock on.

Before the half-hour mark the Chiefs went to their speciality of the driving maul from two close-range lineouts but Saracens held firm before eventually conceding a penalty that Steenson kicked for an 11-0 lead.

But no sooner had the Chiefs built up some breathing space, than they were pegged back by the visitors.

Sarries needed a score before the break, they twice turned down kickable penalties to go to the corner but Schalk Brits and his jumpers miscommunicated both times and it appeared the chance was gone.

However, the Chiefs only had themselves to blame for continued ill discipline that let Sarries back in and it was third time lucky with the driving maul as this time  Vunisa barged over.

Hodgson could not add the conversion into a howling wind but Sarries would have been pleased to get in at the break only 11-5 down.

Having switched ends it was now Sarries with the wind in their sails and after ten minutes of turning the screw they eventually took the points on offer, Hodgson slotting a penalty to trim  the lead to 11-8.

But as the half ticked past the hour mark neither side could firmly establish field position, Saracens possibly guilty of wasting their chances in the Chiefs half.

But in the 67th minute the London club set up an attack again and when the Chiefs went offside, Hodgson again took the penalty on offer to level up proceedings at 11-11.

As the clock ticked into the final ten minutes the game was now in the balance and an attacking driving lineout for the Chiefs was a perfect chance to hit back.

But once again Sarries’ much-vaunted defence held firm and when  Steenson’s clearance kick in the 74th minute was charged down, causing an accidental offside, Hodgson held his nerve from wide on the right to put the visitors in the lead.

With the clock ticking down, the Chiefs had one last chance when Nick Tompkins put a kick out on the full but still Saracens held firm to earn a vital victory that puts them five points clear on top of the standings. 

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