The champions of England thwarted the champions of Europe as Exeter Chiefs ended Saracens long home unbeaten run. The visitors came away with a 20-18 victory at Allianz Park. The clash between Exeter and Saracens demonstrated how far ahead these two are from the rest of the pack. Last Word on Rugby looks back at last weekend’s top of the table clash ahead of Aviva Premiership Round Ten.
Quality Gap at the Top of the Premiership
The legitimacy of the result may be called into question given the absence of several England stars but the result on Saracens’ home patch suggests the gap between them and the rest is shrinking.
In fact the table suggests that, whilst the top four has had a similar look for two years on the trot, there is now an elite group of two setting themselves apart from the rest of the Aviva Premiership.
Owing much to the excellent duo Rob Baxter and Mark McCall, both Exeter and Saracens have been, by quite a distance, the best two sides in the land this term.
Commitment To Ideals
Any top side must believe and back their strengths. Sunday afternoon exercised just why both sides so consistently hit the levels they’re capable of. Exeter: The driving maul and high phase attack. Saracens: Immense defence.
Ultimately when offence faces defence one is always going to look better than the other. McCall said after the contest that his side perhaps had to soak up too much pressure, even for their wolfpack defence. It proved to be the case when, first Ian Whitten cut through the Saracens line and then Moray Low crossed to secure a memorable victory.
All this coming after Saracens had shown in a short seven minute spell early in the match just why they have conquered the continent in consecutive years. Alex Goode played a simple one-two with Nathan Earle, fixing the man before finding his teammate, going over in the corner. Schalk Brits was the beneficiary of a driving maul shortly after to give Saracens a 15-3 lead.
This always seems to be the way with Saracens; they do nothing elaborate, but what they do they execute perfectly.
Exeter and Saracens Set To Blow The Rest Away
Even though one of Saracens or Exeter had to lose in Sunday afternoon, anyone watching the top of the table clash can be left in no doubt why these two are where they are.
Exeter take on Bath next week and Saracens head across the capital to take on Harlequins. Forecasting results in the Aviva Premiership isn’t easy but with Exeter buoyed after this result, and Saracens in need of a response, the likeliness of the league’s top two winning is high.
Difference in European Success
The difference between Exeter and Saracens at current is that Chiefs have struggled to make significant inroads on the European scene. Thus far this year they are addressing that lull with wins at home to Glasgow and a memorable one at French giants Montpellier. Saracens themselves are two from two.
With the recent success experienced by Saracens and the irrepressible upward trajectory of Baxter’s Exeter side, we could soon be looking at not only the top two outfits in England, but in Europe as well.
The Coachs’ Verdict
Baxter was understandably delighted by his side’s victory and even more so at their second-half response. He said: “At half time we said it would be a test of character because we were coming up a bit short. I kind of felt we rolled into today’s game thinking we could do OK, without really putting the endeavour and effort behind it like you need”.
“Thankfully, that changed and at half time we looked like a group of players who had made their minds up and they wanted to make sure this game had something in it for them. We talk about it a lot, but still the most important thing for us being in the Premiership is that every game or rugby is a precious thing”.
“These are very precious points, especially against one or our closest rivals, but there are still things to work on this week.”
McCall on the other hand bemoaned the amount of defensive work his side undertook, suggesting that any side who defends for extended periods will eventually struggle.
“It was a very tough game with two good teams, we were under more pressure than they were under for large parts of the game and as a result we put a huge amount of effort in so I’m just disappointed.”
Main image credit:
BARNET, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 26: Exeter celebrate at the final whistle after victory during the Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park on November 26, 2017 in Barnet, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)