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Saracens strength floors Chiefs

Two powerfully-driven tries from front-row forwards James Johnston and Schalk Brits enabled second-placed Saracens to overcome a stiff Aviva Premiership challenge from Exeter Chiefs.

Both were converted by former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson, who also kicked three second-half penalties in the 23-10 home win.

Exeter, who had taken the lead with a try by centre Ian Whitten, suffered their fifth successive Premiership defeat.

Their other five points came from the boot of fly-half Gareth Steenson.

Exeter rejected the opportunity to go for goal when they were awarded a 40-metre penalty after only four minutes.

But, after winning the lineout, the move backfired when they lost possession at the first breakdown.

The visitors, however, maintained their early pressure and took the lead in the 10th minute when they moved the ball wide for flanker Tom Johnson to send Whitten over in the right-hand corner.

Steenson added the touchline conversion. Hodgson was wide with a penalty from five metres inside his own half but Saracens began to assert themselves and only an ankle-tap tackle by scrum-half Dave Lewis denied United States international Chris Wyles a try in the left corner.

A decision to go for touch rather than goal paid dividends for Saracens as they drew level in the 34th minute after their rampant scrum forced the back-pedalling Exeter pack to concede the penalty.

The forwards continued to pressurise the Exeter line and the Chiefs defence finally cracked when 22-stone prop Johnston, with the support of lock Mouritz Botha, drove over from close range for a try converted by Hodgson.

Steenson put Exeter back in front with a 47th-minute penalty but, a minute later Hodgson passed up the chance of a levelling shot at goal when he kicked for the corner.

The catch and drive forced the Chiefs into rapid retreat over their own line before hooker Brits grounded the ball and Hodgson converted.

There was a lengthy hold-up on the hour mark while former England second-row man Botha received on-field treatment before being carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Steve Borthwick, the former England skipper.

Saracens also sent on Namibian World Cup skipper Jacques Burger for recently-deposed Scotland captain Kelly Brown and South African Neil de Kock for former England scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Hodgson kicked two penalties in the space of three minutes to increase the Saracens lead to 10 points.

Saracens were forced to play the last 10 minutes without Burger who was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Exeter full-back Phil Dollman.

But the home side shrugged off their numerical disadvantage to continue their second-half domination.

Three minutes from time their depleted pack forced another penalty, enabling Hodgson to wrap up victory with his third penalty of the half.


From Belfast Telegraph