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Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Reaction: Exeter Chiefs 34-37 Saracens

Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final Reaction: Exeter Chiefs 34-37 Saracens

A record-breaking Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final saw Saracens retain their title to leave Exeter Chiefs with a bitter sense of déjà vu at Twickenham.

Twelve months ago, Mark McCall’s men decimated the Chiefs to don the crown but this year’s repeat was a far closer affair, although the reigning champions eventually prevailed 37-34.

Nic White scored after just 27 seconds – the fastest try in a Premiership Rugby Final – to give Chiefs a dream start and they led 22-16 at half-time after Dave Ewers and Jonny Hill also crossed in response to Jamie George and Ben Spencer scores.

When Henry Slade dotted down on 57 minutes, the lead grew to 11 points, only for Saracens to produce the biggest comeback in Premiership Rugby Final history as Liam Williams, Sean Maitland and George tries put the game beyond Exeter’s reach.

Sam Hill’s try at the death took the points tally to 71 – more than in any other Premiership Rugby Final – but it was Saracens who celebrated retaining their Gallagher Premiership Rugby crown and completing a domestic and European double.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Saracens boast a never-say-die spirit and no-one epitomises that better than lock Maro Itoje.

The 24-year-old was sin-binned in a frantic first-half for repeated infringements at the ruck but, like Saracens, he stood tall when it mattered most.

It was not just what Itoje did, but it was when he did it that turned this match. Exeter, three points down with three minutes to go, had a line-out on their own five-metre line – only for Itoje to rise like a leaping salmon and pluck it out of the Twickenham sky.

England colleague Jamie George capitalised by rolling off the back of the maul to score the try which sealed their title win.

It was not just that moment which made him stand-out. He terrorised Exeter, harried them and relentlessly pressurised them into crucial mistakes. In an all-time classic, Itoje produced a stand-out display.

TRY OF THE MATCH

It was ultimately for nought but Henry Slade’s try to put Exeter 27-16 up was a work of art, painted by Sam Skinner.

The lock showed his power to get through one tackle after receiving the ball on the right touchline and he then dragged in two further defenders.

At that point, Skinner demonstrated the hands of a back as he daringly flung the ball inside from an almost vertical position straight to Slade, who caught it in stride and dotted down for the score.

At 11 points up, with no team having overcome a deficit greater than six in Premiership Rugby Final history, Chiefs may have thought they were home and hosed but Saracens had other ideas.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

After trailing by 11 points, Liam Williams had outjumped Joe Simmonds to narrow the deficit but it was Sean Maitland’s 67th-minute try that proved decisive.

Following Williams’ score, the momentum was suddenly with Saracens and ageless scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth burst forwards to take them up to the 22.

With a huge overlap to the left, the reigning champions didn’t miss that opportunity – Owen Farrell making ground and passing to Maitland, who stepped inside the covering Slade to score.

It gave Saracens a three-point lead and they never looked like surrendering that advantage thereafter.

WHAT THEY SAID

Saracens man of the match Maro Itoje: “We’ve been working towards this all year and it’s a big credit to the team, credit to all the support staff, it was a massive effort.

“It’s getting harder every year and each time we’re having to dig deeper. Fair play to Exeter, they’re a top, top side and they’re by far the second-best team in the competition.

“We had no choice [after going 27-16 down]. We either had to sit back and let it happen and lose this opportunity or go out there and give it our all.

“We had some fantastic leaders in our team, guys like Owen [Farrell] and Wiggy [Richard Wigglesworth], and we managed to get the ball back.”

Two-try hooker Jamie George said: “We’re a team that has so much respect for Exeter. That final was probably one of the better finals there’s been over the last few years.

“That could have gone either way. Trust me, we’re happy about it.

“I think there’s just this continuous drive to get better and never [being] happy with what we’ve done. We’re going to be pretty unhappy with the way that we’ve played but that doesn’t really matter.

“We’re driven unbelievably by Brad [Barritt] and Owen [Farrell]. We’ve got a great group of senior players.

“Maro [Itoje], Billy [Vunipola], Mako [Vunipola], Wiggy [Richard Wigglesworth]; those guys, they’re brilliant, and the coaching staff are unbelievable as well at trying to make sure that we never settle and we’re constantly striving for more.”

Exeter Chiefs captain Jack Yeandle said: “There was a lot of that game where we were in charge.

“We have to give Saracens full credit for how they came back at us. It hurts.

“We have stayed at our task and stuck with what we have done. I am proud of the boys as we have had a good season but we fell at the last hurdle.

“We felt a lot more in charge in this game than last year. Our defence was pretty good and we definitely had more to say for ourselves.”

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