Exeter Chiefs turn on the power to leapfrog Saracens as leaders

first_imgShare on Twitter Chiefs’ 10-6 interval lead was hardly imposing but in a tight, gritty contest it had real psychological value. Even with the giant Will Skelton on for Rhodes, the Chiefs duly exerted the majority of the pressure in the third quarter, with the sight of the lightly-built Steenson forcing Vunipola back in the tackle indicative of the hosts’ mindset.Even before Williams bagged another powerful try for his collection, Schalk Burger was sent to the sin-bin for illegally trying to prevent the Chiefs’ third score and Kvesic’s final flourish trumped Ben Spencer’s consolation effort, there was only one side in it.With the season due to reach its halfway point this coming weekend, it also underlined the scale of the task awaiting those hoping to nip in and deprive Chiefs of a fourth successive Twickenham final appearance. Even without the injured likes of Henry Slade, who should return for Friday’s trip to Northampton, Jack Nowell, Dave Ewers, Jonny Hill and Olly Woodburn, Exeter have scored more tries than any team in the league over the season’s first 10 games and conceded the fewest as well. “We weren’t faultless but we worked hard and we were pretty tough,” stressed Baxter, whose team have lost once to Saracens in their last five meetings. “It gives me real confidence that if we do what we do with real energy we’re a good side.” Rugby union The Observer Christmas comes around about as often as Saracens lose games of rugby nowadays but this was a seasonal stuffing in every respect. After 22 matches unbeaten in all competitions the Premiership champions were abruptly dragged back to earth by a fiercely motivated Chiefs side who, for now, sit three points above their main rivals at the top of the domestic tree.The foundations of Exeter’s best result of the season were again laid up front, with Saracens ultimately second best in areas they normally dominate. Luke Cowan-Dickie, promoted to start at the 11th hour, made a striking return at hooker opposite England’s Jamie George, Scotland’s Sam Skinner delivered another telling performance and the impact of Harry Williams and Ben Moon off the bench left Saracens with absolutely nowhere to go. Sign up to the Breakdown for the latest rugby union news Share via Email … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Jonah Holmes helps Leicester defeat Harlequins to end losing run Saracens Since you’re here… match reports Share on WhatsApp Read morecenter_img Share on Pinterest The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email. Share on LinkedIn Topics Share on Facebook Reuse this content Support The Guardian Premiership Exeter Read more Share on Messenger Perhaps the most telling snapshot of the day came as Chiefs’ pack rampaged over for a close-range penalty try just as a weary Mako Vunipola and George were walking slowly towards the main stand having been replaced. The two Lions did not even need to glance over their shoulders with the raucous West Country cheers already telling them everything they needed to know.A last-minute converted score from a resurgent Matt Kvesic also earned the Chiefs a bonus point and put the tin lid on Saracens’ heaviest league defeat for 19 months. Exeter were also the last team to beat them in the Premiership last March and, having lost 27-10 to Saracens in last season’s final, will view this result as a positive omen for 2019. “At times we made Saracens look a bit ragged,” said the Chiefs’ director of rugby Rob Baxter. “If we play them again there are some areas where we think we can gain some momentum against them.”Saracens’ Mark McCall freely admitted his side – “We were well beaten in most areas” – were second best after a bright start, their downturn coinciding with the departure of their skipper Brad Barritt with concussion at the start of the second quarter. With Michael Rhodes also suffering a painful shoulder knock and both Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola currently sidelined, the champions are starting to show some end-of-year signs of wear and tear.Exeter, despite two early Owen Farrell penalties, took full advantage, with Cowan-Dickie, only drafted in to start at short notice when the Chiefs’ captain Jack Yeandle withdrew because of illness, gleefully collecting the rebound after Skinner had charged down Ben Spencer’s clearance. Saracens’ early composure soon began to fray, with their wing Alex Lewington enduring a particularly torrid 40 minutes beneath the high ball, and their set-piece also started to creak. With Exeter, as ever, rejecting penalty shots in favour of kicks to the corner, however, there was no further scoring until Steenson finally slotted a penalty from in front of the posts in the final moments of the half.last_img

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