A weekend away re-arranged twice due to Lockdown saw a great weekend in and around Birmingham for me. I most probably wouldn’t have driven all the way to Exeter and usually wouldn’t be keen to watch a tight loss. But having read some of the comments around the game I wanted to add my opinions too. The photos are courtesy of photographer extraordinaire Daniel Davis, who always takes wonderful shots!
There are certain sections of the media, read most here, who just can’t let go the hurt inflicted on Exeter (in their eyes) by Saracens Salary Cap infringements. I’ve really admired Rob Baxter as a coach; I’d admire him more if he moved reporters on from the subject. Unless we see the words coming out of his mouth however, we really can’t be sure of what was or wasn’t said in the build up. I strongly believe that many of my fellow Saracens fans also need to move on from their own obsession with Exeter I care about the team I support, and look out for scores for a couple of teams I have a soft spot for and that’s it.
Saracens haven’t fared well over the years in Devon, they took the lead in the first 5 minutes as Alex Lozowski kicked a penalty, another long ranger effort for the Centre. Ben Earl was penalised a few minutes later and Exeter kicked to touch, the throw was a poor one and it went over the line out straight to Earl, that was a phew for him.
Exeter went over on 10 minutes however after a bit of a muddle in the Saracens ranks as Max Malins threw a wild pass which went to the floor then an Exeter player. The try was wiped off to many boo’s from the home fans after Henry Slade was deemed to be offside (what is that haircut all about?!?!?).
A word for Sam Simmonds who stormed off with the ball from the back of the scrum, awarded for what amounted to a forward pass by Malins, he really is a sight to behold at times like that, happily on that occasion he was stopped in his tracks. Billy Vunipola was penalised a couple of set pieces later as he broke away from the scrum too early. That was, according to Austin Healy the wrong decision, but it obviously stood. Maro Itoje negated that penalty by winning the line out.
Maro Itoje was penalised for not releasing, just within the Saracens half, according to Austin, incorrectly, I am inclined to agree that was a harsh penalty, he seemed to tackle, release and go back in again. Joe Simmonds back in the starting 10 shirt sent the ball wide of the posts for the penalty kick.
The first of the incidents I wanted to see happened on around 24 minutes, Exeter were awarded a penalty after they counter rucked, the referee walked Saracens back 10 after Billy Vunipola questioned him, cue another comment as he walked past him and lo and behold another 10 metres given to Exeter. That of course put them in a good position to kick for the points and the teams were equal. Saracens are choosing to play with co-captains in Jackson Wray and Alex Goode in Owen Farrell’s absence, note Billy V isn’t one of them, those 3 points have to go against him, players know not to chat back at the officials, especially senior, international ones.
A strange decision went against Sam Simmonds in front of the posts, for seemingly coming in at the side, giving Saracens their next 3 points, he, gave a wry shake of his head as the kick went over, fair enough I’d say.
Max Malins made another uncharacteristic error as he failed to deal with a kick through by Exeter, it looked like Malins had touched the ball with his foot, but I’m not so sure he did. But, yet again 3 Saracens players, including Malins ran at and questioned the referee which resulted in a penalty being awarded to Exeter. It’s interesting that BT didn’t notice the fact Malins hadn’t actually touched the ball, however 3 players should not have approached the official.
It was worrying to see Billy Vunipola sarcastically pointing out the fact that Maunder was questioning a decision that went Saracens way (again possibly incorrectly) – I feel like Erasmus here with all the questioning of decisions going on!
Exeter scored a lovely try just before half-time after a great run by Stuart Hogg, followed by a good run forwards by Luke Cowan-Dickie, a perfect cross field kick by Joe Simmonds was well taken by Tom O’Flaherty who beat Aled Davis to the ball. The conversion was missed, but Chiefs had the lead.
Saracens were awarded a penalty after the TMO called Ian Whitten offside for a Hogg kick he wasn’t going to get anywhere near: Lozowski’s kick was good to put Saracens ahead by 1. I must give a mention to Kelly Brown again, a man with a lifelong stammer he’s the go to man for comment now for BT and he always does a great job, such a positive example.
That’s a positive thing, another negative however, Vincent Koch tackled over the shoulder and was rightly penalised, yet more back chat, this time from Mako Vunipola, what on earth???? That saw another 10 metres given to Exeter. That, has to stop, I can see no way that happens with Farrell on the pitch!
Saracens had what was probably their first decent attack, but the ball was lost forwards, Joe Simmonds kicked the ball down field and Alex Lewington was penalised, we saw Exeter doing Exeter things from the line out as Luke Cowan-Dickie scored from the rolling maul, Simmonds added the extras and the lead was 6.
A mention for the whole Exeter Chiefs thing, with all the disquiet over the use of the Native American imagery, it doesn’t sit well hearing their chants ringing out – we watch this space on that one.
Exeter were awarded a penalty after a good run of play for them, in no short measure due to Henry Slade; Simmonds slotted the ball over the posts to give his team a 9 point lead.
Realistically Saracens were lacking in attacking intent and didn’t look likely to score a try, but they did score another 2 penalties, the first awarded from a scrum. The final points of the game came from a penalty awarded from a ruck after 70 minutes, with Saracens opting to kick the points rather than for the corner, with the gap at 6, I’m also not sure that would have happened with Farrell wearing the captain’s armband. A mention for Max Malins who, 5 minutes later, made a try saving tackle double handed with Koch, saving the bonus point too!
The final result was Exeter Chiefs 18 Saracens 15 – a fair result on a grotty day. Exeter had 58% of the possession and 64% of the territory, and scored 2 tries. I don’t for one moment imagine Mark McCall shouting at his team, but someone needs to make sure the giving away of territory via the mouth stops happening. Saracens remain in second place, but now 9 points behind the unbeaten Leicester Tigers. Exeter with an extra game played are now in 5th. European Rugby is up next for both, Saracens play Edinburgh, a team in great form, at home in the Challenge Cup and Exeter, Montpellier in the Champions Cup, I’ll be hoping both Prem teams win.
Thank you for the great photos Daniel!