Saracens held on to win a tight and tense affair down at Sandy Park, coming away with hard-fought 16-9 victory over a committed Exeter Chiefs side.
Saracens saw off a unrelenting tide of Exeter Chiefs attack in the dying minutes to hold on to win 16-9 at Sandy Park – in game where Saracens lost Charlie Hodsgon, Marcelo Bosch and David Strettle to injury, they came away with the spoils courtesy of a Ben Ransom try, a monster Marcelo Bosch penalty and eight points via the boot of Alex Goode.
From the start of the game Saracens were dealt a huge blow, as fly-half Charlie Hodgson had to leave the field due to a head injury.
Saracens reshuffled, bringing on Ben Ransom at full-back and moving Alex Goode to fly-half, and it was the young flyer Ransom who would open the scoring after Exeter Chiefs Gareth Steenson missed a penalty opportunity.
After an impressive display the previous weekend against the Scarlets, the former England Under 20s full-back collected Chris Ashton’s inside ball to score left of the posts.
The try though was expertly created by Ashton, who popped up on the left hand side to scythe through the Chiefs defence to offload to Ransom. Alex Goode kicked the conversion.
Saracens were looking dangerous, no more so than in their back division that included Premiership debutant Tim Streather. The 25 year-old former Nottingham centre was partnering Argentine Marcelo Bosch in the Sarries midfield and both had half breaks of their own to serve a timely reminder to the Chiefs defence of their capabilities with ball in hand. Wigglesworth and Goode continued to steer the Saracens ship, with the England internationals kicking intelligently to test the Exeter back three.
Both sides were still throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at each other at the breakdown. Billy Vunipola, Alastair Hargreaves and Jacques Burger all producing a series of turnovers that disrupted the home sides rhythm whilst Jamie George, David Strettle and Chris Ashton chased and harried the Exeter back three that were under constant bombardment from the Sarries new look half-back pairing.
The Chiefs though continued to plug away and they were agonisingly close to scoring through centre Sam Hill – the Chiefs midfielder was brought down by Strettle and Ransom, with the help of the covering Stevens and Wigglesworth for good measure with the line at his mercy. Referee Tim Wigglesworth referred the decison to the TMO, but to the displeasure of the home fans the try was ruled out.
The game continued to ebb and flow, and Saracens really should have scored a second, if it wasn’t for Gareth Steenson’s cynical knock down after Tim Streather glided through the Chiefs backline. Goode kicked the penalty as the Chiefs pivot was sent off the field for ten minutes for his discretion.
Goode added another penalty before the break, as the sides went into the sheds with Saracens leading 3-13.
Exeter came out in the second half and immediately looked to pin back Saracens in their territory with their running game. Tom Johnson was a constant menace for the home side, as the England back-rower carried well in the face of some steadfast defence from Saracens – Gareth Steenson added six more points with the boot as Exeter began to dominate proceedings.
As the half wore on Saracens committed effort began to take its toll. Firstly David Strettle had to hobble off with a bang to the leg, followed by Marcelo Bosch who walked off the field rather gingerly after taking a bang to head.
Moments before the physical Argentinean groggily left the pitch; he scored Saracens final points of the game with a monstrous 50 yard penalty that kissed the crossbar as it went through the uprights.
That was about it in terms of concerted pressure for the visitors, for the rest of the second half they were subjected to a Chiefs bombardment. Saracens were endured wave after wave, phase after phase of Exeter attacks, in a period of play that many Saracens fans might compare to the closing moments of the 2011 Premiership final – with centre Tim Streather defending for over ten minutes with just one arm.
As the clock ticked down and heart rates raced up, Exeter looked to have won the game. After countless phases the ball came out to Tom Johnson who looked certain to score – as the England international dove for the line numerous Saracens defenders held the blindside flanker just short. The decison was again sent upstairs for a review, and to the home faithful’s obvious displeasure the try was ruled out.
From the resulting scrum the ball slipped away from Exeter backrow, and after Richard Wigglesworth pounced on the ball, Will Fraser booted the pill into touch to seal the win.