Exeter Chiefs secure Final spot with huge second-half performance
The grand final is confirmed after Exeter Chiefs put in a complete second-half performance to down a spirited Northampton Saints. The power and pressure of Chiefs proved too much for Saints as the game wore on and a Tom O’Flaherty wonder try finished off any final hints of resistance.
Early on, it was all Exeter Chiefs with a sustained period of pressure through some muscular carrying from the big lads, Harry Williams eventually crashing over from point-blank range. Joe Simmonds added the extras to put the home side deservedly ahead.
Errors from Saints meant Exeter saw the lions’ share of the ball, with Joe Simmonds scoring Chiefs’ second after 20 minutes, powering them to a commanding 14-0 lead.
Saints managed to find a way back into the game against the run of play. Two tries in quick succession put Saints right back in the mix and it could have been more. The last play of the half proved costly for Saints- the usually clinical Cobus Reinach fluffing his lines and dropping Hutchinson’s pass with the line beckoning. A vital moment. 14-12 at the break, with all to play for.
Chiefs returned to what they do best in the second-half. A rolling maul resulted in more burly, burrowing carries and eventually Dave Dennis grabbed Chiefs’ third.
Then came the moment of the match. Tom O’Flaherty coming off his wing and slicing through the defence, arching around the full-back in scintillating fashion. A stunner to mostly end the Saints resistance.
They weren’t quite done there. Sam Simmonds and then Sam Hill put the icing on the proverbial cake, both from close range.
That was that. Chiefs join Saracens in the grand finale, showing composure, patience and an abundance of physicality. Whilst Saints will rue missed opportunities.
Man of the Match
Tom O’Flaherty and Jack Nowell both looked razor sharp in the wider channels but Dave Ewers was monstrous in defence and always seemed to fly over the gain-line with ball in hand.
In such a physical contest, his presence, bulk and intensity added a huge amount to Chiefs in both defence and attack. Bullish in all regards.
Try of the Match
An absolute gem from Tom O’Flaherty. Spotting a whole in the defensive line, the wing put the pedal to the floor, singeing would-be tacklers at break-neck speed.
There was still plenty of finishing to do. With the last defender in his sights, he rounded Dan Biggar, throwing in a hitch-kick for good measure to score a famous individual try. Pure class, electric pace and a highlight reel finish.
Moment of the Match
Whilst O’Flaherty’s try was a thing of beauty, perhaps the most uncharacteristic moment of the season proved to be key in the grand scheme of the game. Cobus Reinach dropping the ball with the line at his mercy. You would have bet your house he would finish it. Alas.
He would have sent Saints into the break ahead with the wind in their sails. Chiefs scoring after the break made the drop seem all the more pivotal.
What they said
Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter “It feels a bit weird, winning 42-12, it doesn’t feel quite right considering how close the game was for large periods of the game.”
“If you’re looking at the stats and figures, Northampton tend to be a first-half team and we tend to be a second-half team and it kind of worked like that today.”
Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Chris Boyd “ If we’re playing against a side like today, we need to be really disciplined and we fell off a couple of tackles…”
“It’s a great group of lads and we can go back to the drawing board over summer and see what we’ve got to do…At the end of the day the two most consistent and best teams are in the final.”
Best of social
Electric from Tom O’Flaherty! ⚡️
The @ExeterChiefs winger races away to give the hosts some daylight!
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) 25 May 2019
148 – @ExeterChiefs have made the most carries of any side in @premrugby this season, averaging 148 per game, while @SaintsRugby have gained the most metres (481) and made the most clean breaks (12.2) on average. Collision. pic.twitter.com/Y7Oep6EdNb
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) 25 May 2019
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) 25 May 2019