Match Stats - Fix Info
Match Page 2017-18 - Summary
Chris Wyles rode off into the sunset by making history as his two tries helped Saracens spectacularly beat Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham to win their third Aviva Premiership Rugby title in four years.
In his last game before retirement, winger Wyles became the all-time top try-scorer in Premiership Rugby Finals with four, as the 2015 and 2016 champions dethroned last year’s winners 27-10 in a pulsating clash.
Exeter dominated the early stages but only emerged with three points and fit-again No.8 Billy Vunipola crashed over for his first Aviva Premiership Rugby try of the season before Wyles crossed to establish a 12-3 lead at the break.
The American looked to have put the game beyond doubt with his history-making second try but another retiring Saracen, Schalk Brits, was yellow-carded and Gareth Steenson dotted down to get Chiefs within nine.
However, Ben Spencer’s penalty and Nathan Earle’s score in the corner sealed the deal as Saracens’ impressive record at Rugby HQ continued – they have now won ten of their last 11 Aviva Premiership Rugby matches at Twickenham – and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth becomes the only man with five Premiership Rugby winner’s medals.
One of the most remarkable stats from Exeter’s impressive 36-5 win over Newcastle Falcons in the semi-final was that they enjoyed 92 per cent possession during the first half and they started in a similar vein at Twickenham – having 99 per cent of the ball during the first ten minutes.
But unlike the Falcons, Saracens’ defence – led by the immense Mako Vunipola – held strong, consistently knocking the Chiefs ball-carriers backwards and limiting them to just three points during this period, when Joe Simmonds slotted a fourth-minute penalty.
It could have been 6-0 but Simmonds missed from 45 metres – which would have been his longest successful kick of the season – and Saracens celebrated weathering the storm by grabbing the game’s first try after a quarter of an hour.
Alex Goode hacked on an Owen Farrell chip to set them up right on the Exeter line and after a cross-field kick from the No.10 found Wyles on the left wing, Billy Vunipola crashed over from close range a couple of phases later.
In 15 years of Aviva Premiership Rugby Finals, the team that has scored the first try has always gone on to win the game and Saracens increased the likelihood of that statistic continuing with a second try midway through the half.
It was almost a training-ground score as the Londoners spread the ball left, Goode producing an overhand pass to Sean Maitland who released Wyles to dot down in the corner – the American becoming the first player to score in three Aviva Premiership Rugby Finals.
Chiefs at least stemmed the tide for the rest of the half – although it required some sterling defensive work from Jack Nowell to deny Wyles a seemingly guaranteed second try as he just beat his opposite number to Farrell’s perfectly-weighted grubber kick over the try-line to knock it dead.
In the previous 15 Premiership Rugby Finals, only Wasps in 2004 had overcome a half-time deficit to emerge victorious – beating Bath Rugby 10-6 after trailing 3-0 at the break – and Wyles gave the Chiefs an even bigger mountain to climb by scoring his second try shortly after the interval.
It was simple once again as hooker Jamie George made the initial burst and Goode eventually completed the final pass to send the 34-year-old over in the corner at a canter for his historic score before Farrell nailed the touchline conversion for a 19-3 advantage.
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for popular hooker Brits coming on for his final professional game with 27 minutes remaining, yet the veteran South African was sent to the sin-bin for foul play just seven minutes later to give Chiefs a glimmer of hope.
Phase after phase on the Saracens line saw Dave Ewers fingertips short of the score but Exeter regrouped and Steenson ploughed his way over the line from short-range, nailing the conversion himself to close to 19-10.
However Mark McCall’s men steadied the ship, Spencer’s 70th-minute penalty and Earle’s late dive over in the corner wrapped up a 27-10 win and ensured Saracens are the 2017-18 Aviva Premiership Rugby champions.