MATCH REPORT | Saracens Women 32-19 Exeter Chiefs
Saracens Women continued their perfect start to the season after a hard fought 32 -19 win over third-placed Exeter Chiefs at StoneX Stadium.
The win also marked Sonia Green’s 300th appearance for Saracens, and the fans were delighted to see her hoisted high by her teammates after the final whistle.
Unsurprisingly, Exeter made life hard for Saracens from the off. They controlled the possession and threatened the home defence. A chip kick was impressively gathered by Chiefs winger Jennine Duncan, who sped away and looked set to open scoring before the excellent scramble defence from Sarries pushed her into touch.
The pressure continued, and five minutes into the game the Chiefs found the first gap in the home defence. Scrum-half Brooke Bradley sniped through from the edge of the ruck to open the scoring. A successful conversion from Gabby Cantorna gave the visitors a 7-0 lead.
The Women in Black quickly upped their game and returned fire at the Chiefs. A penalty won straight from the restart meant Zoe Harrison could kick her team inside the Exeter 22. A dominating rolling maul from the Sarries pack then put Exeter on the backfoot.
Harrison’s distribution was as sharp as ever, throwing a miss pass to Sarah McKenna, whose pass out of the tackle sent Chantelle Miell in for the equaliser. Harrison converted to level the score 7-7.
Saracens soon took the lead. Harrison’s kick into touch gave Saracens’ a great platform to attack off, the forwards piled on the pressure and Poppy Cleall was able to pick the ball up just short of the try line and touch down to give Sarries the lead.
Exeter’s restart went out on the full, completely confirming the game’s shift in momentum. The Sarries pack forced a penalty from the following scrum and just like that Harrison’s reliable boot sent the team into the Chiefs 22.
The penalty count continued to rise, and the home side were gifted a shot at the posts, which Harrison duly converted.
Much like their fantastic support, Saracens were committed, and on the stroke of half time they struck again. A chip kick from Exeter initially looked dangerous before being regathered and fed to Cleall, whose storming break down the left caused panic in the Chief’s defence. Sensing an opportunity on the opposite side, the ball was worked wide where Hannah Bottman scored after some neat handling between the backs and an excellent try assist courtesy of Hannah Casey.
Momentum remained with the hosts in the early exchanges of the second half, denying Exeter the ball and hammering away at their defence. Like in the first half, Exeter winger Duncan received the ball in space and began to rush away from the defence, but an excellent cover tackle from captain Lotte Clapp stopped her dead in her tracks.
Saracens’ first try of the second half, and their bonus point try, was courtesy of Cleall, bulldozing her way over the line in typical fashion for the second try of the match. The try came from Harrison’s miskick being regathered by McKenna, who was pulled down on the Exeter 5m line, leaving Cleall with little work to do. With the conversion taking the score to 29-07 in favour of the home side, the game already began to seem out of sight.
Exeter Chiefs hit back however, manoeuvring their way into the Sarries 22. They made sure they made the most of their time there. The Chiefs forwards kept up the pressure, eventually creating the space for Ebony Jeffries to score, signalling that the game was far from over. The conversion was wide, and the score moved to 29-12.
Exeter’s play looked rejuvenated. Their line speed remained daunting and consistently denied Harrison time on the ball, resulting in an extended period of possession and the freedom to build some phases. But the Saracens defence remained compact and aggressive, choking a vital penalty from the visitors, which Harrison nailed to make the score 32-12.
With less than two minutes left on the clock, Exeter made their final dent in the Sarries defence. The Exeter forward pack racked up the phases in the Saracens’ 22, leading to fly-half Flo Robinson spotting a gap and scoring their third try. The conversion brought the score to 32-19.
Despite Exeter’s resurgence in the second half, Saracens held on, and now have five wins from five games, with five bonus points to boot.
Saracens now have just over two weeks rest before they face Worcester again at the end of the month.
Written by Rhys Jones.