Exeter Chiefs 31-13 Saracens: Premiership champions' unbeaten start ended at Sandy Park

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport at Sandy Park
Harry Williams scores for Exeter
Harry Williams scored the second of Exeter's four tries in their win over champions Saracens
Gallagher Premiership
Exeter (10) 31
Tries: Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Penalty, Kvesic Cons: Steenson 2, J Simmonds Pen: Steenson
Saracens (6) 13
Try: Spencer Con: Farrell Pens: Farrell 2

Exeter ended Saracens' 22-game unbeaten run and replaced them at the top of the Premiership with a thrilling 31-13 win.

Two Owen Farrell penalties gave Sarries an early lead but Luke Cowan-Dickie's try and a Gareth Steenson penalty saw the home side go into the break ahead.

A Farrell penalty hit the post at the start of an error-strewn second half.

But scores from Harry Williams and Matt Kvesic, plus a penalty try, sealed the victory, with Ben Spencer's effort a mere consolation for Saracens.

The win moves Exeter three points above Saracens at the top of the table as they approach the midway point of the season.

Exeter overcome early nerves

Exeter's victory was all the more impressive considering they were missing international backs Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and Alex Cuthbert, as well as first-choice back-rows Sam Simmonds and Dave Ewers.

Their cause was hampered further before the game started when skipper Jack Yeandle was forced to pull out because of illness.

The home side looked nervy in the opening minutes and gave away a number of needless penalties - Farrell kicking two of them - the second after the Chiefs defence had kept out a ferocious Saracens attack on their own line.

But Exeter grew into the encounter and took the lead when Cowan-Dickie, who replaced Yeandle in the starting line-up, was in the right place to pounce after Sam Skinner charged down scrum-half Spencer's kick by the corner flag.

Steenson converted to put Chiefs in front and when Exeter continued to pressurise the champions, Steenson was on hand to capitalise on a Saracens error when his penalty on the stroke of half-time extended their lead.

Chiefs bide their time before pouncing

Saracens came into the game on the back of a 22-match unbeaten run, having last tasted defeat when they lost to Leinster in Dublin in the quarter-finals of last season's Champions Cup.

Farrell gave Exeter a let-off when he hit the upright with a penalty in the opening minutes of the second period, which began in scrappy fashion as both sides made handling errors.

Exeter had the bulk of possession but had struggled to break their opponents down until a further spell of pressure resulted in England prop Williams going over, much to the delight of the Sandy Park crowd.

Victory was soon confirmed as another Chiefs maul was hauled down by Schalk Burger for a penalty try, and the South African was sent to the sin-bin.

Saracens fans did have something to cheer at the end as Spencer finished off under the posts after good work from replacement Christian Judge, but Kvesic's score in the final seconds from another rolling maul secured a bonus point and a victory that opens up the title race between these two sides.

Sarries' Sandy Park hoodoo

Saracens players
Saracens have only beaten Exeter once in their last seven meetings

Exeter's win was the fourth successive time that Saracens have been beaten at the home of their biggest domestic rivals.

Indeed, Sarries have only beaten the Chiefs once in their past seven meetings - May's Premiership final - after the Devon side won at home in the league in March after also triumphing a month earlier in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and by just two points at Allianz Park 13 months ago.

Exeter also won a memorable Premiership semi-final 18-16 in May 2017 thanks to Sam Simmonds' last-minute try, while the two sides drew 13-13 in the Premiership in January 2017 after Saracens has been reduced to 14 men early in north London.

'The result was secondary' - post-match reaction

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Sport:

"It might sound a bit odd, but the result was of secondary importance to me.

"I wanted us to come out of the game and know that we've challenged Saracens, and know the players come off the field and whatever the result go 'we can beat these, we can win this'.

"At times we made Saracens look a little bit ragged.

"After the first 10 minutes we looked like we had the discipline issue, by the end of the game you would say it was Saracens giving away uncharacteristic penalties and making the discipline a problem for them."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:

"We were well beaten today, and beaten in most areas really.

"After a good start, we were good for 15 or 20 minutes and had a lot of control of field position and possession, and probably could have been more than six points up.

"But thereafter we allowed a lot of things to mount really, mistakes in the backfield, avoidable penalties that we gave away, and a couple of set-pieces in there too when the score was 6-0 and we piled pressure on ourselves.

"They were very good as well, and their kicking game was good today and put us under a lot of pressure. It was a pressure we couldn't really alleviate."

Exeter: Simmonds; Cordero, Whitten, Hill, O'Flaherty; Steenson, Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Francis, Dennis, Skinner, Lonsdale, Armand, Kvesic.

Replacements: Taione, Moon, Williams, Lees, Lawday, White, Devoto, Dollman.

Saracens: Goode; Lozowski, Tompkins, Barritt, Lewington; Farrell, Spencer; Vunipola, George, Koch, Isiekwe, Kruis, Rhodes, Clark, Earl.

Replacements: Woolstencroft, Barrington, Judge, Day, Skelton, Burger, Whiteley, Gallagher.

Sin bin: Burger (68).

Referee: Thomas Foley.

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