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Returning England stars help Saracens reclaim top spot with impressive win

Published 26/03/2016

England star Owen Farrell made a try-scoring return to Saracens colours
England star Owen Farrell made a try-scoring return to Saracens colours

England heroes Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell made try-scoring returns to domestic action as Saracens emphatically reclaimed top spot in the Aviva Premiership.

England boss Eddie Jones looked on at Allianz Park, with a third of his Grand Slam-winning team - Farrell, Vunipola, his brother Mako, Maro Itoje and George Kruis - all starting following last Saturday's Paris triumph against France.

And they did not disappoint, spearheading an impressive bonus point Saracens display that saw them down previous leaders Exeter 36-18 and take Premiership pole position with just four regular-season games left.

Full-back Alex Goode, flanker Jackson Wray and wing Chris Wyles also touched down for Saracens, while Farrell kicked three conversions and a penalty, with Goode adding the extras to Wyles' 75th-minute effort.

Exeter - whose points came from number eight Thomas Waldrom's ninth and 10th league tries of the season, two Gareth Steenson penalties and a late Will Hooley conversion - could have few complaints after they were outgunned in every key area by a Farrell-inspired home team.

Saracens, building strongly towards a successful Premiership title defence and a major assault on the knockout phase of this season's European Champions Cup, were irresistible at times, mixing and matching their game superbly.

And on this latest evidence, a European and Premiership double looks a realistic aim, even though it will require a monumental effort from them during the next two months.

But with their England contingent showing no obvious sign of fatigue from their memorable Six Nations exploits, it will take a team of high all-round excellence to stop them in their tracks.

Saracens, having relinquished top spot last weekend for the first time this season, made a major statement of intent with their team selection as five England starters against France seven days ago all featured.

Goode and Wyles, meanwhile, both made their 200th first-team appearances, with Exeter captained by Steenson and reserve England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie lining up, but Red Rose wing Jack Nowell was rested.

Steenson missed an early penalty chance in blustery and damp conditions, and the opening 10 minutes were dominated by heavyweight sparring between the packs as both sides strived for a territorial foothold.

But the game exploded into action after 18 minutes when Saracens breached Exeter's defence through a strong run from Scotland international back Duncan Taylor, and after Itoje acted as a key link, Goode's dazzling footwork saw him elude would-be tacklers to claim a try that Farrell converted.

It was Goode's third touchdown in his last three Premiership starts, including the victory over London Irish in New Jersey, and Exeter could make little headway with the wind at their backs as Saracens displayed some impressive handling skills.

Farrell drifted a penalty narrowly wide that would have put his team 10 points clear, but Saracens did not have much longer to wait before they posted a second try, and this time it was Vunipola who powered over wide out following a brilliant off-load by centre Marcelo Bosch, and Exeter were in deep trouble, 12-0 behind.

Steenson belatedly opened the Chiefs' account through an angled penalty after Kruis infringed, and then he added another penalty - this time from halfway - as Exeter trooped off 12-6 adrift.

Saracens, though, should have struck first in the second half, but flanker Will Fraser had the ball dislodged from his grasp by Chiefs centre Henry Slade as he dived over the line, and Exeter escaped.

But it proved short-lived, and Saracens looked to have made the game safe when hooker Schalk Brits capitalised on an initial defensive hole punched by Billy Vunipola and sent Farrell sprinting clear.

It was another impressively-executed score, and although Waldrom responded for Exeter, Saracens were in no mood to take their foot off the accelerator.

Wray's try, finished off following a stunning Neil De Kock pass, sealed the deal after Farrell had kicked a penalty, then Wyles powered over and Goode's conversion completed a thoroughly satisfying afternoon's work, even if Itoje was sin-binned for a technical offence with two minutes left.

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