Premiership semi-final: Exeter Chiefs 18-16 Saracens
|Aviva Premiership semi-final|
|Exeter (6) 18|
|Tries: Nowell, Simmonds Con: Steenson Pens: Steenson 2|
|Saracens (6) 16|
|Tries: Wyles, Ellery Pens: Farrell 2|
Saracens' hopes of consecutive domestic and European titles were dashed as Exeter scored a late try to reach their second Premiership final in a row.
Sam Simmonds was forced over as the clock wound down to deny Sarries, who beat Clermont to win the Champions Cup last Saturday, in a tense semi-final.
Jack Nowell's try put Chiefs ahead after it was 6-6 at half-time, but Chris Wyles' try brought Saracens back.
Mike Ellery put Sarries in front on 76 minutes, before Simmonds' heroics.
The last-gasp victory gained revenge for Exeter, who had lost out to Saracens in their first Premiership final 12 months ago, while extending the Chiefs' unbeaten league run to 16 matches.
A second half to remember
Two early Owen Farrell penalties were cancelled out by Gareth Steenson's two three-pointers as both sides had great chances to score in the opening half.
First Wyles was denied by a last-ditch Nowell interception, and then Thomas Waldrom was held up by the Saracens defence as he went over the line.
But straight after the break Exeter hit their straps, Nowell finishing off after Phil Dollman had broken through before setting Ollie Devoto away.
The home side's dogged defence kept Saracens, who lost former England winger Chris Ashton to an early injury, at bay.
But Mark McCall's side always looked dangerous with ball in hand, and so it proved as Wyles went over in the left corner after a delayed pass from Maro Itoje with 23 minutes left.
Ellery, who had replaced Ashton, had the Saracens coaching staff leaping for joy when he cart-wheeled over the line despite the desperate efforts of Nowell and Michele Campagnaro to stop him.
But England's Henry Slade, on as a replacement, blasted a perfect penalty deep into the Saracens 22 and Exeter secured the resulting line-out, allowing the Chiefs to drive academy graduate Simmonds over for the decisive score.
Exeter establish themselves
Could Exeter become the ninth team to be crowned champions of England?
If so, it would cap a seismic rise up rugby union's league system. Promoted to the top flight in 2010 under the guidance of Rob Baxter and assistant Ali Hepher, the Chiefs have gradually built a side greater than the sum of its parts.
Only seven of their starters have played any international rugby, while in contrast just two of the Saracens side - Michael Rhodes and Jackson Wray - had never featured for their country.
But a combination of home-grown stars, such as England's Nowell, Slade and Luke Cowan-Dickie, a sprinkling of international imports such as Waldrom and the experience of players like Ben Moon, Dollman and Steenson - who were all part of that promotion-winning side - has proved to be incredibly successful at home.
Whatever the result in next week's final, Exeter have established themselves as a force in the domestic game.
Exeter Chiefs forwards coach Rob Hunter:
"The biggest challenge we've got now, certainly from a coaching point of view, is that you almost instantly go 'we've not just won the Premiership, what we've just won is the semi-final'.
"So you do very quickly get through that and our biggest job now is not pretending we're champions.
"We've beaten the European champions, we've beaten a very good side, but we've got to beat one of these two (Wasps and Leicester) to win it, so it means nothing if we go there next week and we don't perform."
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
"That was one of the great kicks of all time from Henry Slade - if he puts that somewhere else I'm probably stood here taking about one of the great wins and one of the great fights from a team who are a little bit tired.
"We're sad, of course we are, and it's going to be painful, but we can be unbelievably proud of the qualities that showed during that second half.
"I'm pleased that we showed the fight, we didn't do much wrong to lose the match, to be honest."
Exeter: Dollman; Nowell, Whitten, Devoto, Short; Steenson (capt), Townsend; Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Dennis, Parling, Horstmann, Armand, Waldrom.
Replacements: Yeandle, Rimmer, Francis, Lees, S Simmonds, Chudley, Slade, Campagnaro.
Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Bosch, Taylor, Wyles; Farrell (capt.), Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Kruis, Rhodes, Wray, B. Vunipola.
Replacements: Brits, Lamositele, Du Plessis, Brown, Burger, Spencer, Lozowski, Ellery.