Feb 07, 2016
Saracens storm Sandy Park fortress in comeback win
Saracens fought back from 11-0 to score 14 unanswered points to defeat Exeter Chiefs 14-11 at a sold-out Sandy Park in round 11 of the Aviva Premiership.
Charlie Hodgson’s late 74th minute penalty goal sealed the win, and in the process, ending Exeter’s 15-game winning streak at Sandy Park.
Sarries fell behind with former wing James Short pickpocketing the away side attack to race away for the games first try after Gareth Steenson had slotted an early penalty for the hosts.
Samu Vunisa though would hit back before the break before Hodgson sent over three penalties to seal a huge win for the north Londoners, who face Wasps at Allianz Park next Sunday.
Heading into today’s game, only two points separated McCall’s Premiership champions and the Exeter Chiefs. Having been defeated by Rob Baxter’s side on two occasions last season Saracens were in defiant mood, and they had to call on all of their reserves of resilience in a tight contest in front of a sold-out crowd.
Saracens were playing into a howling gale in the first forty minutes. The sight of a Charlie Hodgson ‘Garryowen’ and a Richard Wigglesworth box-kick hanging in the Devon breeze was a familiar sight.
Territory was seemingly difficult to establish through kicking, so the visitors looked to run the ball back at the in-form Chiefs at every occasion.
Ben Ransom was particularly busy in his first half endeavours, as was blindside flanker Jackson Wray who carried on nine occasions during the first half.
Sarries fell behind to a Gareth Steenson penalty after Chiefs wing Olly Woodburn had made a searing break down the right wing. The Chiefs next points came from Woodburn’s wing partner James Short, in a try that was definitely one to file under the ‘against the run of play’ section.
Having absorbed pressure from the frenetic Exeter running game, Sarries (who were marshalled excellently by Richard Wigglesworth at scrumhalf) patiently worked their way into the Exeter 22. Having surged to the Chiefs try line on two occasions, a Charlie Hodgson offload was picked up by James Short who raced the length of the pitch to outplace the gallant chase of lock forward Hayden Smith to score. Steenson couldn’t negotiate the wind to add the extras.
Exeter extended their lead with a Steenson penalty after the half-an-hour mark as Sarries were staring at second successive ‘nilling’ at halftime. Enter Samu Vunisa. The Italy international is being eased into his new surroundings by his new club, and he is starting to carve out the reputation as a man with the penchant for the five pointer as he crossed for his fourth try in as many appearances for his new club before the break. After repeated penalties for Chiefs discretions at the breakdown, Vunisa barged over for a score on the back of a powerful driving maul to give Sarries a much needed shot in the arm heading into the second half as they headed into the changing rooms 11-5 down.
In the second stanza, Sarries would continue their fightback after two maul indiscretion led to a penalty. Hodgson stepped up and cut the Chiefs lead three points.
With the howling wind behind their backs, Saracens could execute their kicking game to much better affect. Wigglesworth and Hodgson continued to test out the Exeter back three, whilst Exeter looked to spread the play to dangerous wings of Woodburn and Short at every opportunity with the game finely poised heading into the final twenty minutes.
Sarries were enjoying the lion’s share of territory and possession, and were camped out in the Chiefs half for the majority of the second half. Under the deluge of Sarries pressure, the Chiefs would once again transgress and fall foul of Referee Thomas Foley. Hodgson duly slotted the kick to level up the game with 67 minutes played.
Time was starting to run out for either side, and it was the Chiefs who looked to most likely of the two sides to secure the win as they were camped out on the Sarries line with two successive catch and drives in the closing stages. Despite the three points on offer, Exeter elected for the lineout to test the Sarries defence but once again McCall’s men stood firm and were up to the task as they won a penalty with the Chiefs sniffing blood.
What compounded the home side’s misery would be the penalty they conceded moments later after Saracens resolutely defended their own line. Offside at the kick after Rhys Gill did brilliantly to charge down Gareth Steenson’s clearance kick, Sarries had the chance to edge in front and snatch a famous win between the two Premiership pace setters.
Hodgson stepped up and slotted the penalty, as Saracens held onto secure their 16th win of the season, and extend their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership to five points at the halfway stage of the 2015/16 league campaign.
Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom;14 Mike Ellery;13 Nick Tomkins;12 Brad Barritt (c); 11 Chris Wyles;10 Charlie Hodgson;9 Richard Wigglesworth; 1 Richard Barrington;2 Schalk Brits;3 Petrus Du Plessis;4 Hayden Smith; 5 Jim Hamilton;6 Jackson Wray;7 Kelly Brown;8 Samu Vunisa.
Replacements 16 Jared Saunders; 17 Rhys Gill; 18 Titi Lamositele; 19 Maro Itoje; 20 Jacques Burger;21 Ben Spencer;22 Nils Mordt; 23 Nathan Earle.
Replacements used: Gill for Barrington (68); Lamositele for Du Plessis (74); Itoje for Smith (44); Burger for Vunisa (48); Earle for Ellery (74).
Tries Vunisa (39)
Penalties Hodgson x 3
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman;14 Olly Woodburn;13 Ian Whitten;12 Sam Hill;11 James Short; 10 Gareth Steenson;9 Will Chudley;1 Ben Moon;2 Jack Yeandle (capt); 3 Moray Low;4 Ollie Atkins;5 Geoff Parling;6 Don Armand;7 Julian Salvi; 8 Thomas Waldrom.
Replacements 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie; 17 Alec Hepburn; 18 Harry Williams; 19 Lewis Stevenson; 20 Kai Horstmann; 21 Dave Lewis; 22 Will Hooley; 23 Max Bodilly.
Replacements used: Cowan-Dickie for Yeandle (53); Hepburn for Moon (53); Williams for Low (68); Stevenson for Atkins (62); Horstmann for Salvi (73).
Tries Short (13).
Penalties Steenson x 2.