Saracens see off Exeter at Twickenham
Mako Vunipola sparkles in the south-west London sunshine.
Saracens were crowned Aviva Premiership champions for a third time in four seasons after ending Exeter’s title reign at Twickenham.
First-half tries by number eight Billy Vunipola and wing Chris Wyles sent Saracens on the way to a 27-10 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.