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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bristol 29-31 Exeter: Chiefs maintain excellent start to Gallagher Premiership after leaving it late against brave Bears

18 Nov

Exeter continued their unbeaten Gallagher Premiership record with a dramatic last-minute penalty try against Bristol – winning 31-29 in a thrilling contest at Ashton Gate.

Chiefs threw eleven men into a five-metre line-out and the referee awarded the penalty try when it collapsed, leaving the Bristol player devastated.

Bristol’s Andy Uren is left crushed by Exeter’s late try

Despite Exeter outscoring them by five tries to two, Bristol were the better side as they hustled their rusty opponents with an all-action effort.

Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan scored tries for Bristol, with Callum Sheedy converting both and kicking five penalties.

Moray Low, Tom Lawday, Santiago Cordero and Jack Yeandle scored tries for Exeter before their penalty try award, with Gareth Steenson converting two.

Bristol took a fourth-minute lead with a penalty from Sheedy but the visitors soon replied with the first try of the game. A strong burst from number eight Lawday put the defence on the back foot before Low forced his way over from close range.

Steenson converted before Sheedy knocked over two penalties to give Bristol a deserved 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Exeter continued to infringe for Sheedy to succeed with a more difficult kick, a wide-angled shot from 45 metres, but the visitors were the more clinical in taking their chances and were rewarded with their second try.

From a line-out five metres out, the drive was halted but from the resulting ruck, Lawday saw a gap to ghost over and Exeter were level.

Three minutes before the interval, Bristol finally got the try their first-half efforts had deserved. Will Hurrell threatened with a couple of determined runs and when Exeter were penalised close to their line, Piutau caught them unawares by quickly taking a tap to force his way over.

Sheedy converted to give his side a 19-12 interval lead, which could easily have been greater had Bristol not missed a couple of clear-cut chances.

Soon after the restart, Bristol lost their captain Steven Luatua to a head injury assessment. He was replaced by George Smith but the blow did not stop the hosts’ momentum as a neatly timed pass from John Afoa provided Morahan with an easy run-in.

Sheedy fired over an excellent touchline conversion but Exeter remained in contention at 26-19 when Cordero side-stepped two players to finish in style.

Sheedy lost his exemplary kicking record by hitting a post with a penalty attempt so Exeter went into the final quarter with a seven-point lead and the game in the balance.

Yeandle barged his way over for the bonus-point try and a fifth penalty from Sheedy looked to have secured a famous victory – until that collapsed maul sealed their fate.

It was a pulsating game at Ashton Gate

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.”

European Champions Cup: Two mistakes from Freddie Burns costs Bath game against Toulouse, Exeter and Munster play out tense draw plus more

13 Oct

The European Champions Cup is back for another season and it was certainly a day to remember.

Here is the best of Saturday’s action from the competition.

Bath 20-22 Toulouse

Freddie Burns was guilty of two late blunders as Toulouse continued English clubs’ painful start to the Heineken Champions Cup by claiming a 22-20 victory over Bath.

A visibly upset Burns is consoled after the game

Less than 24 hours after European title holders Leinster crushed Wasps under a half-century of points in Dublin, Toulouse clinched a crucial Pool One win at the Recreation Ground.

And they were helped by Bath full-back Burns, who missed an easy 74th minute penalty chance and then blew a try barely 60 seconds later after crossing the Toulouse line before losing control of the ball under pressure from Toulouse defender Maxime Medard.

Centre Sofiane Guitoune scored two tries for Toulouse, including a clincher 17 minutes from time, while wing Medard also touched down and full-back Thomas Ramos kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Exeter 10-10 Munster

Exeter’s European Champions Cup campaign got off to a disappointing start after they were held to a 10-10 draw in a titanic struggle at Sandy Park.

The Gallagher Premiership leaders were unable to get past Munster

Exeter had only lost once in their last 17 games but came perilously close to losing this one as Munster had the lion’s share of possession and territory.

Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter’s only try with Gareth Steenson adding a penalty and a conversion.

CJ Stander scored for Munster with Joey Carbery kicking a penalty and a conversion.

Ulster 24-10 Leicester

Second-half tries from Alan O’Connor, Will Addison and Jacob Stockdale earned Ulster a 24-10 win over Leicester in their Heineken Champions Cup opener.

Ulster’s John Cooney kicked all three conversions and a penalty to complete the Irish province’s scoring in the Pool Four clash at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute try came too little too late

The Tigers led at half-time thanks to a George Ford penalty but failed to score again until Manu Tuilagi’s 75th-minute converted try.

Montpellier 21-15 Edinburgh

Referee Wayne Barnes ruled out two tries for Edinburgh as they fell just short of a famous Champions Cup victory over Montpellier on French soil.

Montpellier, coached by the former Scottish national coach Vern Cotter, scored three first half tries on the way to a 21-15 victory, but it was Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh who dominated the final 40 minutes.

Edinburgh crossed for a try in each half and would have won the game if Barnes not ruled out a Hamish Watson try at the posts for offside and another by Magnus Bradbury for obstruction.

It was a brave effort from Edinburgh

In the end they had to settle for a losing bonus-point, although they had to scramble to keep hold of it after home skipper Louis Picamoles intercepted 30 metres out and almost reached the line for what would have been an extra point for the hosts.

Scarlets 13-14 Racing 92

Racing 92 opened their Heineken Champions Cup Pool Four campaign with a dramatic and controversial 14-13 victory over Scarlets.

The French side were trailing 13-7 in the final minutes when referee Matthew Carley awarded Racing a penalty try and also sent scrum-half Gareth Davies to the sin bin, and from there, Racing held on to win.

Racing’s two tries came at the end of the first and second halves with a losing bonus point being little consolation for Scarlets, last year’s semi-finalist’s, who led for most of the match.

Bath 24 – 39 Exeter: Chiefs leapfrog Saracens for at least 24 hours to go top of Gallagher Premiership

5 Oct

Exeter temporarily leapfrogged Saracens into top spot in the Gallagher Premiership with a 39-24 win over Bath.

It took an hour for the Chiefs to overpower their West Country rivals, with Bath leading 19-18 going into the last quarter before the Devon side scored 21 points in as many minutes.

Stu Townsend goes over to score

Tries by Dave Ewers, Ian Whitten and Jack Nowell, all converted by fly-half Gareth Steenson who kicked 14 points in all, added to first-half scores from Stu Townsend and Don Armand.

Bath tried desperately to claim a losing bonus point at the death but were left empty-handed. They scored tries through Rhys Priestland and Chris Cook while Freddie Burns kicked a conversion and four penalties.

A full house at the Rec had to endure five minutes of kick-tennis before Exeter slipped into higher gear but, after 12 rucks near the Bath line, Taulupe Faletau and Zach Mercer forced a penalty to relieve the pressure.

Burns opened the scoring on 11 minutes with a 45-metre penalty which sparked them into life, full of running and off-loads but errors too.

It was a tense West Country derby
Bath were leading until the last quarter 19-18

With the home scrum at a distinct disadvantage, it was a surprise when Bath extended their lead on 22 minutes with a sweeping cross-field move.

The diligent Tom Ellis eventually found Semesa Rokoduguni on his shoulder on the right touchline and the winger’s kick infield bounced perfectly for Priestland to gather and score.

Burns converted but Exeter hit back with a 27th-minute Steenson penalty and, almost immediately, a Townsend intercept try from near halfway also converted by his fly-half.

Another Burns penalty edged Bath back in front but flanker Armand scored in the corner from Steenson’s well-judged grubber kick to give Exeter a 15-13 lead at the break.

Jack Nowell celebrates with his Exeter teammates

Burns and Steenson swapped penalties in the early minutes of the second half and then Bath lost Rokoduguni to the sin-bin on 48 minutes for a deliberate knock-on.

Oddly, it was Exeter’s discipline that then began to unravel as Bath forced successive penalties and Burns landed the second from 50 metres out on the right.

And when Chiefs left wing Santiago Cordero danced his way almost to the try line he was penalised for not releasing the ball.

Bath’s penalty woes at the scrum returned however and, opting for the line-out, Exeter’s pack forced their way over to claim a try confirmed by the TV match official and credited to Ewers.

Steenson’s conversion put them 19-25 ahead going into the last quarter.

Minutes later, replacement Whitten danced past two Bath defenders to add the fourth try, with Steenson converting to extend the lead to 13 points. Nowell slid over for a fifth after Henry Slade had broken upfield from his own 22.

Replacement Cook finished off a nicely worked try for Bath and Whitten then saw yellow for a late hit on Jackson Willison.

Premiership Rugby Review: Saracens smash Bath, Exeter continue good form and Danny Cipriani fails to shine for Gloucester

29 Sep

Bath were punished for fielding a weakened team against Saracens as Liam Williams ran in a hat-trick of tries to help the Gallagher Premiership champions claim a 50-27 victory at Allianz Park.

Director of rugby Todd Blackadder made 13 changes to the side that toppled Northampton, including Toby Faletau, Luke Charteris, Sam Underhill and Joe Cokanasiga among the group of front-line players rested.

Liam Williams goes over for one of his three tries

Blackadder’s decision was shaped by Exeter’s visit to the Recreation Ground on Friday, but the price was paid in north London where Saracens had the bonus point sown up before half-time and amassed eight tries in total.

To Bath’s credit they trailed only 26-20 at the interval and were persistent throughout, but they were outclassed and would have finished further behind had Alex Goode and Williams not blundered in the final act of scoring.

Goode could be forgiven his mistake, however, as his lines of running, step and vision made him untouchable at times and the full-back repeatedly overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones finished as man of the match.

Exeter continued their impressive start to the season with a fifth successive win as Worcester became their latest victims in a hard-fought 28-21 success at Sandy Park.

Jack Nowell makes a successful break at Sandy Park

The Warriors were competitive in the opening quarter but conceded three tries in the second to ensure that there was to be no repeat of last season’s shock 6-5 win at Sandy Park, which was the only occasion that Exeter were beaten in the league on their home ground.

Dave Ewers scored two tries for Exeter, Jack Yeandle and Harry Williams one apiece, with Gareth Steenson converting all four.

Two penalties from Chris Pennell and a try from Ted Hill were Worcester’s response as they now have their eyes firmly set on next week’s crucial home game with Premiership newcomers Bristol.

Bristol suffered their first Gallagher Premiership home defeat of the season as Northampton claimed a 45-40 bonus point victory at Ashton Gate.

The teams served up an 11-try spectacular in the west country sunshine to maintain this season’s trend of high-scoring encounters.

Lewis Ludlam goes over for Bristol at Ashton Gate

And Saints, without an away league success since April, had enough in the tank to deny a Bristol side that had already claimed wins on home soil against Bath and Harlequins.

Northampton often made hard work of it, but they got over the line after tries from Ehren Painter, Andrew Kellaway, Lewis Ludlam, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood, while fly-half Dan Biggar kicked five conversions and a penalty and Harry Mallinder also landed a conversion.

Bristol only led once in the game, yet they refused to go quietly, with centre Will Hurrell (two), hooker Harry Thacker and wings Luke Morahan and Alapati Leiua all claiming touchdowns and fly-half Callum Sheedy booting 15 points.

Harlequins won for the first time in the Gallagher Premiership since the first match of the season as a thumping clash saw them overhaul home team Gloucester 27-25.

Cipriani failed to inspire Gloucester

Two tries from wing Nathan Earle plus the boots of fly-half James Lang, with two penalties an a conversion, plus his replacement Marcus Smith, who landed three penalties, saw the Londoners to victory.

Fly-half Danny Cipriani scored 15 of Gloucester’s points with a try, two penalties and two conversions with wing Charlie Sharples crossing the Harlequins line twice.

Gallagher Premiership: Exeter continue brilliant start, Saracens remain unbeaten, Newcastle claim first win of season

15 Sep

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

Exeter Chiefs 35-18 Sale Sharks

Exeter maintained their exemplary start to their season with a third bonus point victory in succession to remain at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table.

However, their latest success, 35-18, was far from straightforward as Sale battled hard throughout and were unlucky to come away from Sandy Park with nothing.

Santiago Cordero got things up and running for Chiefs

Exeter scored five tries through Santiago Cordero, Jack Maunder, Jonny Hill, Tom Lawday and Alex Cuthbert. Joe Simmonds converted three and Gareth Steenson two.

Marland Yarde and Bryn Evans scored Sale’s tries with Alan MacGinty adding two penalties and a conversion.

Northampton Saints 27-38 Saracens

Saracens overcame a slow start to score five tries and secure a 38-27 victory over Northampton in a thrilling Gallagher Premiership encounter at Franklin’s Gardens.

In a game which swung back and forth, two tries in three minutes from David Strettle late on secured a bonus-point win for Mark McCall’s men.

Strettle’s try helped the champions secure a bonus point win

The visitors claimed the spoils despite seeing Jamie George and Billy Vunipola yellow-carded in either half as Alex Lewington crossed for a brace with Ben Spencer also on the scoreboard.

Northampton’s points came via Piers Francis, Dylan Hartley and Ben Franks, but the boot of Dan Biggar was not enough.

Worcester Warriors 20-23 Newcastle Falcons

The boot of former England fly-half Toby Flood steered Newcastle to a first Gallagher Premiership victory of the season.

Last year’s play-off semi-finalists held on to beat battling Worcester 23-20 at Sixways.

Flood scored 13 of Newcastle’s 23 points

Flood kicked three second-half penalties to add to first-half conversions of tries from scrum-half Sonatane Takulua and wing Sinoti Sinoti.

But the Falcons let Worcester off the hook as Scottish fly-half Duncan Weir scored a try, conversion and penalty, with full-back Chris Pennell landing a long penalty – while the hosts were also awarded a penalty try.

Harlequins 32-37 Bath Rugby

Joe Cokanasiga scored two tries as Bath ran out 37-32 winners during an entertaining Gallagher Premiership match at Harlequins.

Cokanasiga’s two tries helped Bath claim a narrow victory at the Stoop

The wing scored either side of half-time, while number eight Zach Mercer also added two tries as Todd Blackadder’s men claimed their first win of the season.

However, Bath were made to work by the hosts late on as Joe Marler and Charlie Mulchrone scored to give the home fans some hope following earlier scores from Danny Care and Joe Marchant.

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.

Saracens beat Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham to become Aviva Premiership champions once more

26 May

Saracens beat Exeter Chiefs 27-10 to become Aviva Premiership champions once moreSaracens beat Exeter Chiefs 27-10 at Twickenham to become Aviva Premiership champions once more

Saracens have been crowned Aviva Premiership champions for a third time in four seasons.

Mark McCall’s side ended Exeter’s title reign with a 27-10 victory at Twickenham in the 2017/18 final on Saturday.

First-half tries by number eight Billy Vunipola and wing Chris Wyles sent Saracens on the way to victory as Chiefs’ hopes of claiming a second successive Premiership crown dried up in the south-west London sunshine.

Wyles added a second touchdown after 47 minutes and there was no way back for Exeter after that as Saracens collected Premiership silverware for a fourth time in their history.

Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell, who will captain England on their three-Test tour to South Africa next month, kicked two conversions before going off 15 minutes from time, appearing to be in discomfort, with Ben Spencer adding a late penalty and Nathan Earle a 79th-minute try.

Exeter’s points came through an early Joe Simmonds penalty and a Gareth Steenson try that Steenson converted but despite finishing well clear of Saracens over the 22-game regular Premiership season, they could not withstand their opponents’ superior pace and power that was driven by man-of-the-match Mako Vunipola.

England head coach Eddie Jones looked on as Billy Vunipola, who overcame a hamstring injury concern to start the final and featured for an hour, opened Saracens’ account following an initial 15 minutes that Exeter dominated.

And when United States international Wyles, making his farewell appearance before retiring from professional rugby, struck four minutes later, Exeter were left chasing the game before ultimately suffering a first defeat since mid-February.

Exeter forced the final’s first mistake when Saracens wing Sean Maitland spilled Chiefs scrum-half Nic White’s high kick, and then the defending champions did what they do best – keep possession and go through numerous phases.

There was also a high-risk element to Exeter’s passing game, which they continued with after Simmonds kicked them into a fifth-minute lead.

It took Saracens 15 minutes to move inside Exeter’s 22, but they struck from their first opportunity after Farrell’s clever kick into space found full-back Alex Goode, who kept the ball and set up an imposing attacking platform.

It enabled Saracens to free their heavyweight ball-carriers, and Billy Vunipola touched down from close range for a try that Farrell converted.

Vunipola, who has endured an injury-hit season, initially looked as though he had taken a knock, but he quickly rejoined his team-mates before Saracens cut Exeter’s defence wide open.

Goode was again heavily involved, firing an overhead pass to Maitland, who had switched wings, and he completely committed Exeter’s final defender before sending an unmarked Wyles in at the corner, securing a nine-point advantage.

Exeter, having dominated initially, could not get their hands on the ball and they also lost captain Don Armand for a head injury assessment, with Thomas Waldrom going on for a final Chiefs experience before he returns to New Zealand.

Armand returned to the fray just before the break and Exeter managed to avoid further damage when Farrell sent a touchline penalty wide, meaning Saracens led 12-3 midway through an absorbing contest.

Wyles’ second try early in the second period, converted from wide out by Farrell, gave Exeter a mountain to climb, and rugby director Rob Baxter reacted by making five substitutions in one go, including taking off Simmonds and centre Sam Hill.

Exeter rallied early in the final quarter, piling on pressure either side of Saracens’ replacement hooker Schalk Brits being sin-binned for pulling down a maul in his last game before retirement.

It proved only a short reprieve for Saracens as Steenson pounced from close range before converting his own try and giving Exeter a glimmer of hope, although ultimately it did not transpire.