Exeter 34-37 Saracens: Chiefs fall agonisingly close at Twickenham as Sarries win Premiership Final

1 Jun

Saracens completed a memorable European and domestic double after retaining the Premiership title by beating Exeter 37-34 at Twickenham.

The teams shared 10 tries during unquestionably the greatest Premiership final in its 16-year history.

Exeter led after just 28 seconds when scrum-half Nic White claimed the quickest Premiership final touchdown, but Saracens ultimately prevailed.

Saracens lift the Premiership trophy after a brilliant final at Wembley
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The Chiefs led by 11 points after an hour, yet Saracens produced a stellar comeback.

Wings Liam Williams and Sean Maitland touched down, following earlier tries from hooker Jamie George and scrum-half Ben Spencer, before George added a second and Farrell kicked 12 points.

White, flanker Dave Ewers, lock Jonny Hill, centre Henry Slade and substitute Sam Hill crossed for Exeter, and Joe Simmonds added three conversions and a penalty, but the Chiefs once again experienced Twickenham heartbreak.

It was the third time in four seasons for the 2017 champions to lose a final – all against Saracens – as Farrell and company followed up European title success three weeks ago with another trophy.

Nic White scored early for the Chiefs
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And it meant a second double in four years, emulating Leicester as only the second English club to achieve such a feat.

Both teams were unchanged following their play-off victories last weekend, with Saracens captain Brad Barritt overcoming a hamstring injury that forced him off against Gloucester to start.

And the final began in remarkable fashion, with 12 points being scored inside the opening five minutes.

Exeter kicked off, but Saracens and England lock George Kruis fumbled possession, giving the Chiefs the chance to attack on front-foot ball and White crossed from close range for a try that Simmonds converted.

Maro Itoje powers through the gain line
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But Saracens responded, launching an initial attack that ended when Slade deliberately knocked on a pass from full-back Alex Goode to Maitland, and was sin-binned by referee Wayne Barnes as a result.

Slade had barely left the pitch before Saracens drove a lineout from the resulting penalty, and George crashed over.

Farrell missed the conversion, but he landed a 35-metre penalty shortly afterwards and Saracens led 8-7 following a breathless start.

Saracens then extended their lead following a Billy Vunipola scrum charge that spread Exeter’s defence, and Spencer touched down to open up a 13-7 advantage.

Henry Slade thought he had won it for Exeter
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Farrell again could not add the extras, and Exeter replied following another frantic passage of play that started with them laying siege to Saracens’ line.

Saracens were reduced to frantic defending, and flanker Maro Itoje, who was sin-binned during the Champions Cup final victory over Leinster, again saw yellow, and Exeter did not require a second invitation to pounce.

A man down, Saracens could not hold out under sustained pressure, and Ewers claimed Exeter’s second try before Smmonds’ conversion gave them a one-point advantage.

And the Chiefs moved further ahead nine minutes before the break when Slade and his England colleague Jack Nowell linked superbly in midfield, before Hill touched down.

Jamie George celebrates after crossing the white wash
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Simmonds’ conversion glanced off the post, then Farrell booted a 40-metre penalty that cut the deficit to three points, but Simmonds responded and Exeter trooped off 22-16 ahead at the break.

Barritt, though, did not return for the second period, being replaced by Nick Tompkins, before Spencer went off for a head injury assessment as Saracens suffered a disruptive opening.

Saracens dominated much of the third quarter, but Exeter continued to hassle and chase them, making life distinctly uncomfortable for their opponents.

And such in-the-face-pressure was rewarded through a fourth try, with Slade the beneficiary following brilliant work by replacement lock Sam Skinner.

Sean Maitland celebrates with teammate Nick Tompkins after scoring his team’s fourth try
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But Saracens responded again and Williams struck after a Farrell kick, with the fly-half’s conversion making it 27-23.

Maitland then crossed 12 minutes from time, with Farrell converting, and although the fly-half missed a later penalty chance, George’s second touchdown sealed the deal and Saracens were home, despite Hill’s late effort that Simmonds converted.

European Champions Cup: Exeter cling onto qualification hopes with bonus-point win at Gloucester, Ulster do double over Scarlets

15 Dec

It’s been an exciting night in the European Champions Cup on Friday as Exeter travelled to Gloucester, while Ulster hosted Scarlets.

Below you can read back about the best of the action.

Gloucester 17-29 Exeter Chiefs

Exeter turned the tables on Gloucester and breathed life into their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a 29-17 victory at Kingsholm.

Gloucester would have gone top of Pool Two had they repeated last Saturday’s win against the Chiefs in Devon, but it proved a frustrating night for them.

Danny Cipriani’s match finished early

Fly-half Danny Cipriani went off injured just before half-time, and Exeter’s forwards dominated the contest, with lock Sam Skinner, flanker Don Armand, hooker Jack Yeandle and prop Harry Williams scoring tries in a bonus point success.

Cipriani’s opposite number Gareth Steenson kicked three conversions and a penalty as Gloucester managed two Jason Woodward touchdowns and a Tom Hudson try, plus a Billy Twelvetrees conversion.

But they also left Munster in pole position for a quarter-final place if they beat French champions Castres on Saturday.

Gloucester and Exeter are not out of the running, yet Munster – they visit Kingsholm next month and have Exeter at home – remain strong group favourites.

Exeter still have a mountain to climb to reach the quarter-finals

It was Exeter’s first European win of the season, and said everything about their squad depth as a number of frontline players were absent.

Gloucester showed a number of changes following their victory at Sandy Park six days ago, including South Africa international lock Franco Mostert being handed a first start for the club, while Exeter made wholesale switches.

Fresh additions to the Chiefs’ injury list included wing Alex Cuthbert, centre Henry Slade, scrum-half Nic White and flanker Matt Kvesic, but international props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis both returned to starting duty.

Mostert was heavily involved in the early exchanges, running and carrying strongly, while also competing fiercely at the breakdown, but Exeter monopolised possession and looked to stretch Gloucester wide.

The Chiefs even sacrificed a penalty shot in front of the posts, going for an attacking lineout instead, and their endeavour was rewarded with a 21st-minute try.

Gloucester had been in constant defence mode, rarely breaking out of their own half, and Exeter prospered after booting another penalty to touch, with their forwards driving a lineout and Skinner touching down.

Steenson converted from the touchline for a 7-0 lead, and Gloucester then blew their most promising spell of the game when Mostert charged recklessly into a ruck and was penalised by referee Mathieu Raynal.

They then breached Exeter’s defence 11 minutes before half-time, driving hard through phase-play, then drawing in Chiefs tacklers and allowing Woodward to cross unopposed.

Cipriani sent the conversion attempt wide, and he departed just five minutes later, leaving the action after appearing to suffer a problem with his right shoulder.

Cipriani had barely reached the Gloucester bench before Exeter struck again through more impressive work by their forwards, and Armand claimed a try that Steenson converted for a deserved 14-5 interval advantage.

Woodward scored two tries for the home side

Gloucester needed a strong start to the second period, but they had the opposite, with Twelvetrees being sin-binned for a technical offence as Exeter looked to make their temporary one-man advantage count.

But Gloucester managed not to concede any points while Twelvetrees was off, although they continued to be a distant second best in terms of territory and possession.

A Steenson penalty put Exeter 12 points clear, only for Woodward to claim his second try with 15 minutes left and lift Gloucester to within striking range.

But Exeter closed out the game with skipper Yeandle’s try – they were also helped by a yellow card for Gloucester prop Josh Hohneck – and Williams’ touchdown secured a five-point maximum after Hudson crossed for Gloucester.

Ulster 30-15 Scarlets

Ulster boosted their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification with a bonus-point 30-15 win over the Scarlets to bring them a maximum 10 points from their back-to-back clashes with the Welsh side.

Cooney was the star man, scoring 15 points for Ulster

John Cooney scored 15 points of Ulster’s total with the bonus-point try, two conversions and two penalties, while second row Iain Henderson bagged two tries with Jacob Stockdale also crossing.

The five points Ulster claimed the same from last week’s meeting at Parc y Scarlets – brought Ulster level on points with Pool Four leaders Racing 92 ahead of their game with Leicester Tigers and ended bottom side Scarlets’ already slim chances of making the last eight.

Ulster led 10-3 at half-time and though the Scarlets, through a Jonathan Davies try, levelled things up, Dan McFarland’s side pushed on with Stockdale, Henderson – bagging his second – and Cooney crossing.

On a miserable evening of swirling wind and rain at the Kingspan, Ulster got the scoreboard moving early when Scarlets skipper Ken Owens was penalised for not rolling away and Cooney landed his first penalty after eight minutes.

Will Addison then crossed the Scarlets line on 13 minutes following a cross-kick from Billy Burns and assist from Henry Speight only for the score to be ruled out for a forward pass.

Speight then went close to scoring himself on 24 minutes but he failed to gather the ball from Addison’s kick through. Ulster had a penalty, though, and put huge pressure on the Scarlets which resulted in prop Wyn Jones being yellow-carded for illegally playing the ball.

Ulster increased the pressure, going for scrums off a series of penalties before Henderson was driven over at the posts on 32 minutes. Cooney converted to put the home side 10-0 up.

Rhys Patchell’s 38th-minute penalty gave the visitors their first points just before Jones’ return from the bin and the half ended with Ulster leading 10-3 with the conditions having seemingly favoured them in the first half.

Eight minutes after the restart, the game exploded into life when Gareth Davies intercepted a pass on his own line and after running into Ulster’s half his cross-kick was pounced on by Jonathan Davies after Speight and Steff Evans had overrun the ball.

Patchell converted to tie the scores and the visitors were right back in the game.

But Ulster responded immediately when Burns’ chip over the top was latched onto by Stockdale who beat two defenders to touch down.

Cooney missed the difficult conversion and Ulster now led 15-10 which became 18-10 when he kicked a 57th-minute penalty.

Five minutes later and Henderson had his second when he powered over from close range after good work by Stuart McCloskey. Cooney’s conversion took Ulster’s lead to 25-10.

The bonus-point score came in the 67th minute when Rory Best – who became Ulster’s most capped player in Europe by making his 72nd appearance – drove off a maul to the line before Cooney followed up to score though he failed with the difficult conversion.
Scarlets managed a consolation score from Tom Pyride in the 78th minute which went unconverted.

Stuart Hogg: Exeter Chiefs sign Scotland full-back on contract from next season

13 Nov

Exeter Chiefs have signed Scotland international full-back Stuart Hogg on a two-year deal from next season, the Premiership club have announced.

Hogg, who has won 63 caps and toured twice with the British and Irish Lions, will move to Sandy Park from Glasgow Warriors.

Scotland international Hogg joins Exeter from Glasgow Warriors

The 26-year-old is Exeter’s first new signing ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

Hogg has spent nine seasons with Glasgow and established himself as one of the most exciting broken-field runners in world rugby.

“I am very excited about the move – it’s a great opportunity for myself and my family,” Hogg said.

“Like a lot of people, I have seen how the Chiefs have risen over the last few years, and I am a big fan of the way they play their rugby.

“This is a decision that has taken a great deal of thought, as I’ve loved my nine seasons at Glasgow Warriors.

“I said I would decide my next step for family and rugby reasons, and I feel now is the right time to gain new rugby experiences and push myself in different situations where I will be challenged and hopefully improve further.”

Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter described Hogg’s signing as a statement by the Chiefs.

“We’ve tracked him for some time and we actually wanted to sign (him) before he signed his last contract at Glasgow,” Baxter said.

Hogg has twice toured with the Lions

“At that stage, it wasn’t the right time for him to move, but now it is and we feel he will be a fantastic addition to our squad.

“Yes, it’s a statement on our part.

“But anyone who knows us and where we want to go will understand that for us to move forward and win trophies – which is undoubtedly what we want to do – we have to back ourselves fully, and that means bringing in players who we feel will take us to that next level.”

Gallagher Premiership: Billy Vunipola scores on Saracens return, Exeter continue good start, Bath and Gloucester draw in thriller

8 Sep

Here is the best from Saturday’s action in the Gallagher Premiership.

Saracens 44-23 Bristol

Billy Vunipola made a try-scoring comeback as Saracens pulled clear of Bristol in a dominant second half that underpinned a 44-23 Gallagher Premiership victory at Allianz Park.

Vunipola’s first appearance since re-fracturing his arm against South Africa in June totalled 36 minutes and the injury-ravaged England number eight was a menace throughout.

Saracens needed his firepower to subdue a resilient Bristol who led 18-13 at half time and suffered the injustice of seeing George Smith harshly sent off for a tackle on Jackson Wray when the score was delicately poised at 18-18.

Vunipola and Saracens turned the screw in the second-half

Smith’s challenge was at shoulder height and there was a clear attempt to use his right arm, but after repeated viewings referee Andrew Jackson reached for the red card. Wray departed for a head injury assessment and was unable to return.

The Australia Test centurion stared at Jackson in disbelief, received a sympathetic pat on the head from his head coach Pat Lam upon reaching the dugout and then watched as Saracens powered clear with tries from Vunipola and Liam Williams.

England lock Maro Itoje was lucky to escape punishment for a high tackle on Joe Joyce under the posts as Bristol staged a final-quarter comeback that ended when Williams plundered two additional tries to complete his own successful return from a groin problem.

Wasps 31-42 Exeter

Exeter beat Wasps 42-31 in an enthralling contest at the Ricoh Arena to continue their impressive start to the Gallagher Premiership season.

Henry Slade scored two of Exeter’s six tries

After last week’s 40-point demolition of Leicester at Sandy Park, the visitors overcame a 24-21 half-time deficit to run out deserved winners.

Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade both scored two tries for Chiefs, with Santiago Cordero and Don Armand also crossing and Gareth Steenson converting all six.

Elliot Daly, Josh Bassett, Dan Robson and Nathan Hughes scored Wasps’ tries, with Billy Searle adding three conversions and a penalty. Lima Sopoaga added a conversion.

Bath 31-31 Gloucester

Matt Banahan denied his former Bath team-mates a remarkable Gallagher Premiership victory as his late converted try secured Gloucester a 31-31 draw.

Banahan denied his old club the victory at the death

Ex-England wing Banahan, who joined Gloucester this summer following a long Bath career that saw him more than 250 appearances, struck two minutes from time, with Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion ensuring the points were shared.

Leicester 49-33 Newcastle

Leicester gave Geordan Murphy the perfect start as interim head coach as they came out on top in a thrilling 49-33 victory over Newcastle.

It had been a turbulent week for the Tigers with Matt O’Connor sacked on Monday following their 40-6 humiliation to Exeter in their Gallagher Premiership opener, leaving former Ireland and British & Irish Lions full-back Murphy in command on a temporary basis.

Murphy got off to a winning start as interim Leicester head coach

But the 40-year-old, who made 316 appearances for the Tigers, watched his men get off to a winning start against his old coach Dean Richards.