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Match Report: Saracens 36 Exeter Chiefs 18

26 Mar 2016
Match Report: Saracens 36 Exeter Chiefs 18

Saracens returned to the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with the returning Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola spearheading a scintillating display against Exeter Chiefs.

Both Farrell and Vunipola crossed in the five-try bonus-point win, with Alex Goode and Chris Wyles scoring on what was both their 200th appearance for the club. 

Jackson Wray was Sarries’ other scorer, while Thomas Waldrom twice crossed for the Chiefs, who relinquished their grip on top spot with five rounds remaining.    

Saracens welcomed back their England stars with Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and George Kruis all returning for this top-two encounter.  

An extraordinary wind was blowing in Chiefs’ favour in the first half but Gareth Steenson couldn’t capitalise to give his side the early advantage, missing a sixth-minute penalty from 40 metres out.

Itoje and Kruis, much like they did for England, combined to disrupt the Chiefs line-out in the opening exchanges, while Farrell’s kicking game was taking a back seat due to the conditions.   

An uncharacteristically disappointing recent run of form at Alliance Park had seen Saracens suffer defeats to Wasps and Northampton Saints but they got the first score through Goode. 

Moving the ball almost 70 metres from inside their own 22, a series of line breaks saw Duncan Taylor stopped just five metres short of the line with Itoje taking the ball on to within a metre.

The ball was then recycled to Goode, who showed some great agility to step back inside and spin his way over the line for his fourth try of the season – his third in his last three appearances.

Farrell was thankful to his full-back for dotting down close to the posts as he dispatched the conversion for a 7-0 lead on 18 minutes, although he couldn’t covert a penalty ten minutes later.

Saracens’ offload game was in full flow with Goode again in the thick of it with a superb break, before Richard Wigglesworth was well tackled five metres short by Dave Ewers.

The ball was recycled to Wyles, although he also was denied just short of the line by Henry Slade, who pulled him into touch.

Saracens had their second try of the afternoon not long after though, this time Billy Vunipola with a masterclass of brute force to touch down. 

The No.8 gathered a line-out before muscling his way to within six meters of the line. A number of phases followed before an excellent one-handed offload from Schalk Brits found Billy Vunipola, who took a helpless Olly Woodburn over the try line with him. 

Exeter finally got on the board a minute before the break after a Kruis infringement allowed Steenson the chance to nail the penalty, while he added another with the last action of the first half to cut Sarries’ lead to six points. 

A look at the first half statistics offered compelling evidence of Saracens’ dominance – 239 metres made compared to just the 39 made by the Chiefs.

And the hosts were close to adding a third try early in the second half after another barnstorming break from Billy Vunipola, who went through Steenson as if he wasn’t there before offloading to Will Fraser but Slade did enough to dislodge the ball before the flanker could dot down.

Brits was heavily involved in Sarries’ third score, Farrell picking an exceptional line as the hooker popped the ball to him and the fly-half went through a gap to score just right of the posts before converting.

It was the Sarries defence that was called into action next as Woodburn powered towards the line for the Chiefs, only for Chris Wyles to take the winger down with a fantastic tackle.

They were helpless to prevent Waldrom from getting Exeter’s first try of the afternoon just before the hour though as he picked the ball up from the line-out and bullied his way over.

Typically, Saracens responded with the bonus-point score through Jackson Wray as replacement Neil de Kock provided the assist over the last defender for Wray to score under the posts.

A Farrell penalty and a Wyles converted score added gloss to the performance, although there was still time for Waldrom to grab his second try with the game’s final action.    

If you want to be at the world's biggest club rugby final, this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby Final on 28 May, tickets are still available from premiershiprugby.com/final.

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