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Match Report: Saracens 28 Exeter Chiefs 20

28 May 2016
Match Report: Saracens 28 Exeter Chiefs 20

Alex Goode’s late try proved crucial as Saracens held off a superb Exeter Chiefs fightback to defend their Aviva Premiership Rugby crown at Twickenham and complete an historic domestic and European double.

Not since Wasps back in 2004 have an English side achieved the feat but Duncan Taylor and Chris Wyles both crossed before the interval to open up a 23-6 lead against Rob Baxter’s Chiefs.

After the break the Chiefs – second in the regular season table and playing in their first ever Premiership final – came roaring back and Jack Yeandle’s try from their trusty rolling maul turned the tide.

And when Jack Nowell went over with only six minutes left to trim the lead to 23-20 an incredible comeback was very much on the cards.

But Saracens showed their class and Goode – the Aviva Premiership Rugby player of the season and man of the match in the final – reached out to dot down their third try and confirm their historic achievement.

Exeter have visited Twickenham five times before in all competitions but are yet to record a victory and they started nervously while Saracens – looking to seal back-to-back league crowns for the first time since Leicester Tigers did it in 2010 – looked totally at ease.

Farrell slotted two penalties inside the first ten minutes to open up a 6-0 lead and they were completely dominating territory and possession.

Will Chudley’s kicking from deep was wayward and full-back Goode was enjoying plenty of time on the ball.

The Chiefs did respond with a Steenson penalty – who had earlier missed a drop goal – and with 20 minutes gone Baxter’s side would have been delighted to only trail 6-3.

But Sarries were starting to click and a third Farrell penalty soon re-established a six-point lead before they struck with the game’s first try in the 34th minute.

Schalk Brits’ mesmeric break from his own half put them deep into the Chiefs 22 and when Farrell stabbed to the corner Taylor was on hand to collect and dot down untouched.

Farrell was again flawless with the extras for a 16-3 lead and it soon got even worse for the Chiefs.

Wyles was the beneficiary this time, again down the left, as he slipped out of Nowell’s tackle, got back to his feet and raced over for Sarries’ second score.

Farrell’s conversion bisected the posts and they led 23-3 with a minute to play before the interval.

Steenson’s second penalty with the clock in the red did reduce the gap to 23-6 at the break but the Chiefs went in to the changing rooms knowing they had a mountain to climb.

If they were to turn the game on its head they had to score first in the second period and they had clearly moved to Plan B as they looked to run the ball from everywhere.

Saracens defence held firm initially however – and before the 50th minute Baxter changed his entire front row and that seemed to do the trick.

Steenson sent a kickable penalty to the corner and urged the Chiefs fans to get involved, and a rolling maul finally made the breakthrough – club captain Yeandle the scorer.

Steenson’s conversion crept inside the uprights as well and it was 23-13 with almost half an hour to go.

The Chiefs pack looked fresh while Sarries – who had brought on replacements of their own – were tiring after a long season run-in on two fronts.

Another Chiefs rolling maul went close before the hour mark but Saracens finally relieved some pressure with a scrum penalty and as the clocked ticked past 60 minutes they remained ten points ahead.

Both sides had firmly released the handbrake now and the next score would be decisive – Maro Itoje’s clean break the highlight of a breathless passage of play with defences now out on their feet.

But a driving maul from Saracens was rebuffed and the Chiefs came again – desperate to make the most of the final ten minutes of the season.

Henry Slade had not been at his scintillating best for the first 73 minutes but when he wriggled free down the right and the ball was worked to Nowell the winger produced a fine finish to get over in the corner.

Steenson’s conversion crept over as well and there were six minutes left with the Chiefs all of a sudden only 23-20 behind.

But not for nothing are Saracens the champions of Europe and their response was magnificent, Ashton and replacement Marcelo Bosch combining to work Goode over for the decisive score.

Hodgson’s conversion was wide but it mattered not and Saracens had sealed their spot in the history books.

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