Jamie George try caps stirring comeback as Saracens retain their title

first_imgSaracens Share on LinkedIn Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Reuse this content Exeter Chiefs’ Jonny Hill scores their third try at Twickenham. Photograph: Paul Harding/PA Read more Twitter Share via Email Saracens win Premiership after beating Exeter in thrilling final – as it happened Facebook … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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Topics Share on Facebookcenter_img Read more Exeter match reports Rugby union Share on Messenger Share on Twitter The Observer Exeter gave it everything but that is rarely enough against Saracens. On the hottest day of the year the two leading teams in the Premiership both set out to show why they were so far ahead of the rest and, while the Chiefs scored in the opening and final minutes and were dominant in the second and third quarters, they lost the title at the very moment it appeared to be in their grip.There were 20 minutes to go and Exeter had gone ahead 27-16, having scored their fourth try through Henry Slade who finished a sweeping move with a flourish. Saracens had taken charge after Nic White scored 26 seconds into the match after George Kruis had lost control of the ball from the kick-off, vexing the Chiefs through their speed of delivery at the breakdown, but were gradually worn down by the persistence, pressure and power of their opponents who in 37 minutes either side of the break scored 20 points and conceded three.Exeter had been well beaten in their two previous finals against Saracens but this time they did not look out of place. The build-up was marked by a debate over whether the Chiefs were boring, a strange tag given that during the game they became the first team to score 100 tries in a Premiership campaign, but style of play should not have been the issue. Exeter’s rise from the depths of the English league system has been remarkable and in recent seasons they have become the most consistent team in the Premiership, again finishing the regular season at the top of the table, rarely dipping from a high level. Saracens have learned to pace themselves and peak when it matters, even if there were moments in the final when it looked as if the climb had become too steep.The Chiefs reacted to Slade’s try euphorically, not taking victory for granted but knowing that, the way they were playing, they were controlling their destiny and 11 points ahead. Saracens had lost their early 13-7 lead and, at times, looked uncomfortable. They were forced into basic errors, were knocked back in contact and, after the early initiative they seized through the speed of ball they enjoyed at the breakdown faded, they showed signs of malfunctioning.Saracens have become Europe’s leading side because, when it matters, they have players who make a difference. Here it was Owen Farrell: he had earlier missed two conversions and was to hook a short-range penalty from just to the left of the posts but, when he gathered the ball on Exeter’s 22 and saw Liam Williams free on the right wing, he kicked across the field.Joe Simmonds, Williams’s closest challenger, conceded a few centimetres, but the way Farrell kicked the ball meant that, at the last moment, it swerved away from the Exeter fly-half. It meant he could not contest the catch with Williams for risk of taking him out in the air and being landed with all manner of sanctions from a red card to a penalty try. All the Saracen had to do to score was catch the ball.The gap was now four points but Saracens were in full pursuit of their prey. It was not Exeter who were making the minor errors: it was the hottest day of the year but even more heat was being applied by Saracens who seized the moment with 13 minutes to go when Richard Wigglesworth spotted space around the fringe of a ruck and set off. He was supported by the front-rows Jamie George and Ralph Adams-Hale before Saracens quickly moved the ball to Sean Maitland on the left wing. Having come from 10 points down against Leinster to win the Champions Cup last month, Saracens went one better. The three-point lead became 10 when George scored his second try of the afternoon after Maro Itoje stole an Exeter line-out with four minutes to go.After George and Ben Spencer had replied to White’s try, Exeter played probably their best 40 minutes since their promotion to the Premiership. At one point they had 70 per cent of possession and had attempted 100 fewer tackles than their opponents. There is no team more difficult to stop close to the line and, when Dave Ewers and Jonny Hill scored from close range in the second quarter, 10 of their last 14 tries had been claimed by forwards. Saracens were, for once, losing the physical battle. They trailed 22-16 at half-time, Farrell’s penalty cancelled out by Joe Simmonds at the end of the opening period, although the Chiefs’ head coach Rob Baxter felt they should have kicked to touch and gone for a try.It had bone a half in which 25 points were scored when a player was in the sin-bin: Slade was first for a deliberate knock-on three minutes in followed by Itoje for slowing down the ball at a ruck.Exeter did not lose because they accepted the gift of three points under the posts. When Slade extended their lead after 57 minutes, a team that a year ago vowed to make up for finishing a distant second to Saracens in the final looked to have lived up to their word – except they were playing Saracens, a team that had won theirprevious six finals. They knew what it took and it is the Chiefs who now have to learn from this experience if they are to turn from very good into something rarer. Premiership Share on Pinterest Support The Guardian Jim Mallinder dismisses speculation he could become next England head coach Since you’re here…last_img

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