Match Reaction: Exeter Chiefs 27 Saracens 19
A dominant pack and shrewd kicking may be central to Saracens’ approach but Exeter Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher admits his side beat their opponents at their own game to claim victory at Sandy Park.
Gareth Steenson equalled a league record by kicking nine penalties in a flawless display off the tee to secure the hosts their fourth consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby triumph.
Yet it was the Chiefs forwards who set the platform for Steenson’s success as they exerted an impressive level of control at the scrum, with Saracens prop James Johnston sin-binned for repeated infringements.
Sarries fly-half Charlie Hodgson landed two penalties either side of the interval, while Maro Itoje score a late converted try but it was not enough to prevent the visitors falling to back-to-back defeats.
And though victory moves Exeter up to second behind leaders Bath Rugby, Hepher has warned the Chiefs’ top-four rivals that there is plenty more to come from his in-form side.
“There is no-one I'd rather have than Gareth in those situations. He's meticulous in his preparations and under that pressure it's remarkable how he holds it all together,” he said.
“Saracens are very strong defensively and they have a strong kicking game. We decided to play them at their own game.
“It was a fantastic performance from our pack as we were able to squeeze them. Conditions dictated the game and we were very smart and disciplined.
“We always changed our game plan in the past, it’s the strength up front that is coming through to allow us to really dictate in these big games.
“We’re in a good place but the reality is we’ve got to kick on. We can see it just in front of us, it’s got to make us work harder.
“We are not the finished product and we have to work harder to maintain our position of second.”
Saracens were looking to bounce back after defeat to Saints last weekend but never gained a foothold in the contest as their scrum was placed under continual pressure.
And director of rugby Mark McCall conceded Saracens had been bettered in traditionally strong areas for his side by a clinical Exeter outfit.
“We are hugely disappointed with our performance overall. We were second best and at this level of rugby, you need solid foundations and Exeter's foundations were better than us today,” McCall said.
“Exeter got the upper hand, particularly at the scrum which is an area for us to acknowledge. They took advantage of that superiority and it got them a lot of field position during the game.
“We were on the back foot for most of the game. There were so many kicks in the game that there were hardly any line-outs so the scrum was a big factor.
“Exeter don't just have Gareth but Henry Slade there as well. They kicked the ball very well today. We made some individual errors in the back field that we would not normally do.
“They got some penalties which, coupled with their scrum superiority and field position, was the game.”
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; Nowell, Slade, Hill (Whitten 78), Jess (McGuigan 78); Steenson, Chudley (Thomas 78); Moon (Rimmer 58), Cowan-Dickie (Bateman 71), Low (Francis 58), Mumm, Welch (Caldwell 65), Ewers (Horstmann 61), Armand, Waldrom
Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Taylor, Wyles (Tompkins 72), Strettle; Hodgson (Ransom 72), de Kock (Spencer 66); Gill (Vunipola 47), George (Sharman 68), Johnston (Figallo 50), Botha (Itoje 57), Hargreaves, Fraser, Burger (Brown 53), Joubert
Sin bin: Johnston 39
Penalties: Steenson 9
Penalties: Hodgson 4
Referee: Greg Garner
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