How did it go down?
Exeter were the first off the mark as Gareth Steenson kicked three points but Saracens responded almost immediately. Nathan Earle collected a high ball and fed Alex Goode who drew in the defence before giving the ball back to Earle on the nearside wing. Earle haired into the space before passing back to Goode who ran it into the corner putting the early score at 7-3. Schalk Brits quickly added another, which was followed by a penalty to take the score to 15-3 and a commanding Saracens lead. Exeter hit back with a penalty of their own to take the score to 15-6 and embarked on a campaign deep into Saracens territory. They controlled the ball for twenty-four phases before play was stopped for a head injury and shortly after a great attempt to score in the corner by Olly Woodburn was unsuccessful, allowing Saracens to clear their lines.
The second half started with both teams having opportunities near their respective trylines but it was Exeter who struck first, with Ian Whitten receiving the ball in the outside centre channel and proving too much for Schalke Burger to cover after an attack that started deep in their own half. The teams were then deadlocked and the score remained at 18-13 until the seventy second minute when the Saracens defence finally cracked after sustained pressure and Moray Low went over from close range after a maul had taken the Chiefs to within meters of the tryline, the conversion was knocked over and Exeter dramatically took the lead. They were able to hold on for the reminder of the match for a fantastic 18-20 away victory.
Well what did we learn?
- Exeter take the driving seat – As expected it was a cracker of a game, but it was Exeter who came out of the match with the win and they’ll now be favorites to finish in the top spot come the end of the season. It will certainly give them a confidence boost for the return leg and the safe money would be on these two teams meeting again in the playoffs. They didn’t beat Saracens at all until the final last season so they will be delighted that they now have the opportunity to usurp the Londoners as the Premiership’s dominant side.
- Olly Woodburn continues to look the part – Every single game that Olly Woodburn has played over the last few years seems to have represented an improvement from the one before. It is one of the most remarkably consistent and long-standing upward trajectories that I can think of and Sunday was no different. He was up against the highly-rated Nathan Earle, who played for England last summer, and looked the much stronger of the two. He is probably the best offloading winger in the league (with the possible exception of Matt Banahan), shows excellent work rate and his finishing is sublime. He didn’t play in any junior England squads but if he did earn a call-up to the senior side nobody would argue that it wasn’t earned.
- Saracens stretched too far by England callups – Saracens are remarkable when it comes to getting results without their internationals, but having such a strong cohort of English qualified players looks to be catching up with them finally. You can’t fault the replacements that came in who almost got them the win but you have to think that if they had Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Alex Lozowski (all key players in key positions) then the result may have been different. They will have the pick of their squad when it comes to the playoffs but could come to regret these midseason losses if they do not get a home semi-final.
How was that prediction?
Well, I said it would be close that counts right?