Resolute Exeter defence secures victory over Saracens to send Chiefs back top

Exeter flanker Jacques Vermeulen crossed for the hosts’ second try after the break
Gallagher Premiership
Exeter (7) 14
Tries: White, Vermeulen Cons: J Simmonds 2
Saracens (0) 7
Try: Penalty

A superb defensive effort saw Exeter beat champions Saracens 14-7 to return to the top of the Premiership.

Nic White’s early try was the only score of the first half as Owen Farrell missed two kickable penalties and Jamie George was held up over Exeter’s line.

Exeter’s attack functioned after the break as flanker Jacques Vermuelen went over from close range after 52 minutes.

A stirring defensive effort kept out Sarries, who could only rescue a losing bonus with a last-minute penalty try.

Exeter had prop Harry Williams sent off in the dying moments after he came off the bench to get involved in a disagreement between Duncan Taylor and White which turned into a 25-man melee.

The win sees Exeter move back to the top of the Premiership while Saracens are on -12 points at the bottom after their second loss of the season, 18 points behind second-from-bottom Leicester.

It was the first meeting of the sides since Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.36m for breaching the Premiership’s salary cap over the previous three seasons – the last two of which saw Sarries beat the Chiefs in the Premiership final at Twickenham.

Chiefs defence tames Champions

Despite many Exeter fans feeling aggrieved that’s Saracens’ off-field transgressions may have cost them two titles, the home crowd were respectful to their visitors and rousing in their support of their charges who time and again put their bodies on the line to keep their opponents scoreless in the first half of any game for the first time in two years.

White gave Exeter the perfect start as the Australian scrum-half pounced on Max Malins’ handling error, kicked through from half-way and dived into the right corner after six minutes.

Farrell missed a straightforward penalty into the wind soon after, as Exeter’s defence shone against a Saracens attack that had the advantage in territory and possession.

England captain Owen Farrell had an afternoon to forget as he missed two first-half penalties

Williams was yellow-carded after 25 minutes for a deliberate side entry to a driving maul as Saracens tried to go over in the corner, one of a number of occasions where the visitors tried but failed to breach the Exeter line from close range.

Exeter began the second period much better as their attack started to get some ball and consistently threaten Saracens.

It paid dividends as the impressive Vermeulen went over from close range after Sarries had repelled the previous six Exeter efforts.

When Saracens did threaten, Exeter’s defence was again superb. At one stage, they repelled Saracens on their own line and forced them back 40 metres before winning the ball midway inside their own half.

The rivalry between the sides boiled over in the final moments as players from both sides came together and England prop Williams – who had been replaced earlier after failing a head injury assessment – jumped off the bench to get involved in the melee and was sent off by referee Wayne Barnes.

2010 was the last time Saracens were kept scoreless in a game but they were awarded a penalty try in the final minute as Dave Ewers impeded a maul that was rolling towards the line.

Ewers was yellow-carded but Exeter saw out the final seconds to secure victory.

Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter told BBC Sport:

“It was looking until the end of the game that we may have nilled Saracens, which would have been a fantastic result, not many teams do that.

“Some of our repeat line speed and some of the stuff around the tackle area was absolutely fantastic, the best we’ve seen this season.

“The thing that really pleases me, is that was a good Saracens side, that’s team that’s won Premierships, a lot of European games and we looked like we could handle them in the physical stakes.

“That probably bodes well for us in what we want to achieve for the rest of the season.”

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall told BBC Sport:

“It feels like we had a lot of time close to their goal line, especially at the end of the first half and various times in the second half.

“We just weren’t good enough to capitalise on some of that field position and some of the opportunities five metres out.

“Some of that was magnificent defence by Exeter, and they defended brilliantly all game but if you’re going to come away from home and be successful you need to take advantage of some of those chances.”

Exeter: Hogg; Nowell, Whitten, Devoto, Woodburn; J Simmonds, White; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Dennis (capt), J Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Taione, Moon, Pieretto, Kirsten, Armand, Maunder, Steenson, S Hill.

Sin-bin: Williams (25 mins), Ewers (79 mins).

Red card: Williams (77 mins).

Saracens: Malins; Maitland, Taylor, Barritt (capt), Daly; Farrell, Spencer; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Skelton, Isiekwe, Wray, B Vunipola.

Replacements: Singleton, Carre, Lamositele, Kruis, Earl, Wigglesworth, Lozowski, Tompkins.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

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