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Chiefs too strong for Sarries


Exeter Chiefs 27

Saracens 19

Gareth Steenson produced a masterful kicking display in equalling the record for most penalties in an Aviva Premiership match as he led the surging Chiefs to a significant victory over Saracens at Sandy Park.

In kicking nine successful penalties, Steenson won his duel with opposing fly half Charlie Hodgson and suffocated Saracens from producing any meaningful pressure.

The sense of expectation was palpable amongst the Chiefs faithful entering Sandy Park before the Chiefs’ top-four encounter. Indeed with good reason, coming off the back of wins against Wasps and Northampton, it was clear to see the Chiefs had confidence in abundance.

Rapturous applause greeted the Chiefs onto the pitch, the crowd further buoyed by England’s beating of Australia earlier at Twickenham. Exeter responded in accordance. Stringing together plenty of phases, the Chiefs got their due reward for consistently battering the Saracens defence in the form of a penalty in front of the posts.

Gareth Steenson's impeccable kicking performance was the difference at Sandy Park. Photo Credit: Guardian
Gareth Steenson’s impeccable kicking performance was the difference at Sandy Park. Photo Credit: Guardian

With the first points of the match, both sides engaged in some entertaining, end-to-end rugby. Thomas Waldrom, arguably Exeter’s man of the season thus far, bounced off the attentions of Saracens’ outside centre Duncan Taylor in a typically barnstorming run. Saracens responded however, Hodgson hoisting an exquisite high ball which failed to be dealt with by the Chiefs and subsequently led to a penalty for the ex-England man.

The Chiefs responded in remarkably similar fashion; drawing a penalty after Saracens were unable to cope with a Steenson kick with the clock standing at seventeen minutes. Two minutes later however Hodgson responded with a simple kick in front of the posts after the Chiefs had strayed offside at a ruck. That left the scores even at six apiece before Steenson put Exeter ahead for good with yet another penalty.

A ‘ping-pong’ battle ensued, as both sides kicked the ball deep to each other trying to gain territory in forcing a mistake. The mistake came from Saracens number eight Ernst Joubert who knocked on. The resultant scrum resulted in a penalty for the home side, really reflecting their dominance in the area. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Steenson pierced the uprights with a kick five metres in from touch.

By the break, the Chiefs had pulled away at 18-6, thanks to two more Steenson penalties and a yellow card for Saracens tighthead prop James Johnston. The scrum had proved the perfect platform in which to draw penalties for Steenson to consistently add to the Chiefs’ lead, a simple yet crucially effective game plan.

Sarries made the brighter start to the second half with Hodgson executing a perfect long-range kick to bring his side to within 9 points of the hosts. However Steenson responded with one of his own, seizing the opportunity after Saracens came in at the side of a ruck in the wake of Jack Nowell half-break.

The scores were at 21-12 when England and Scottish internationals Mako Vunipola and Kelly Brown were introduced onto the pitch, the former returning from a long injury layoff.  Their impact would not be significant though as Steenson et al continued to assert their dominance. Dave Ewers in particular was getting through a significant amount of work, especially in the tackle area.

England hopeful Dave Ewers was industrious in defence and dangerous in attack. Photo Credit: BBC
England hopeful Dave Ewers was industrious in defence and dangerous in attack. Photo Credit: BBC

After another Steenson penalty, Nowell almost produced the killer blow were it not for a knock on in the process. Man of the Match Henry Slade produced a fantastic step to send Nowell over but the England winger inadvertently knocked the ball on with his vision impeded by Saracens centre Taylor.

With five minutes left and the mist descending on Sandy Park, the Exeter scrum once again proved too much for the Saracens pack resulting in the final penalty of the evening for Steenson, with the score at 27-12.

There would be time for the first try of the match in the last play of the game; unfortunately it went the way of the visitors. Nowell failed to deal with a loose ball only for substitute Maro Itoje to canter in under the posts, it was little consolation however.

This was an extremely significant win for the Chiefs, rubberstamping their credentials as a top four contender in the Aviva Premiership as well as further establishing Sandy Park as a feared destination for all teams to visit.

The next two weeks will see the return of Challenge Cup action and La Rochelle will be the opponents on both occasions. Following that, the return of the Premiership and a tough trip away to the Sale Sharks, a fixture in which the Chiefs will now be expecting to come away from with a result. Exciting times lie ahead at Sandy Park.

Oli Davis-Sports Team 

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