Saracens became the first team to do a domestic and European double since 2004 by adding the Aviva Premiership crown to their European Champions Cup, beating Exeter Chiefs in the final at a sun-soaked Twickenham.
Two tries in five first-half minutes gave Saracens a commanding lead which Exeter Chiefs were never able to overcome. Saracens led 9-3 on the half-hour but were 23-3 up by the 37th minute as first Duncan Taylor and then Chris Wyles cut through on the left.
Taylor collected a lovely grubber kick from Owen Farrell, who kicked three penalties and two conversions to make the half-time lead 23-6.
The Chiefs had looked a bit rattled by the big occasion in the first half, but were much more composed after the break and fought back with a 53rd minute try from a driving maul, scored by Jack Yeandle (although the TV credited it to Alec Hepburn). When Jack Nowell dived over the line in the right-hand corner inside the last ten minutes, Exeter looked capable of causing a real upset as the score was then 23-20, but Saracens had the final say with a terrific try for Man of the Match Alex Goode which owed everything to great handling by Marcelo Bosch and Chris Ashton.
The Saracens defence – Exeter cannot complain of a lack of possession or opportunity, but Saracens prevented them from turning all the ball they had into points on the board as they rushed up in defence, cutting down the passing options, looking for interceptions and forcing errors. At times it was more lone wolf than wolfpack, as Saracens players darted out of the line to try to take man and ball. Only once did this tactic catch them out, as Henry Slade ran round an on-rushing opponent and through the gap to create Nowell’s try.
Saracens’ big-match temperament – There was not a hint of stage-fright from Saracens, and why should there be? They won the Premiership final here last year and lifted the European Champions Cup in Lyon earlier this month. Even though the noise from the Exeter fans was filling Twickenham from the start, Saracens were unfazed and just coolly got on with the job.
The Exeter Chiefs fans – Everywhere you looked around the Twickenham concourses and car parks before the game, there were feathered head-dresses and Exeter jerseys. And the Tomahawk Chop rang out before, during and long after the game. When the Chiefs came back to within three points of Saracens in the second half, the noise was deafening. In the end they will travel home disappointed, but Exeter’s fans did their team proud.
Owen Farrell’s kicking – The Saracens and England fly-half turned all Saracens’ first-half pressure into points, kicking three penalties and two difficult conversions. The scoreboard ticked away and that did not help Exeter settle on their biggest day.
First-half jitters – Exeter will look back on their first-half performance with disappointment as they made a host of unforced errors. Not many of their team have much experience of playing at Twickenham and it was perhaps telling that England wing Jack Nowell looked more at home than most. Henry Slade, the ultra-talented outside-centre knocked on a high ball and missed a tackle on Chris Wyles on his 22, letting the wing through to score Saracens’ second try, which opened up a 23-3 lead three minutes before half-time. He redeemed himself to an extent by making the break to set up Nowell’s try and the Chiefs will surely do better next time they are in a final.
The Exeter lineout – It has been such a weapon all season for the Chiefs, as have the driving mauls which come from the lineouts, but before this area of set play produced a try in the second half, it misfired badly in the first. One over-thrown lineout in their own 22 led to the concession of the penalty which put Saracens 9-3 up, just after Exeter had opened their account with a Gareth Steenson penalty. Other attemped drives went nowhere. Eventually they turned one into a try, but the lineouts could have gone better.
The Sarcens Here we go song – Every time Saracens kicked a penalty we were “treated” to this dirge being played over the PA at Twickenham. I hesitate to call it a “song”. There’s not much in the way of a tune, just a plodding rhythmic chant. At a club that does so much right, it is strangely uninspiring. Stand up for the Saracens is much better.
149 – The number of metres made with the ball in hand by Alex Goode. Jack Nowell was second in the table with 66, while Schalk Brits was the next best Saracen with 56.
16 – Exeter Chiefs blindside Dave Ewers showed up well in attack, carrying 16 times. Only Nowell did better, with 19.
58 – Exeter had 58% of the possession and 54% of the territory but ended up on the losing side as Saracens made 163 tackles compared to 97 from the Chiefs.
SARACENS: A Goode; C Ashton, D Taylor (M Bosch 73 min), B Barritt (capt), C Wyles; O Farrell (C Hodgson 68 min), R Wigglesworth (N De Kock 68 min); M Vunipola (R Barrington 66 min), S Brits (J George 52 min), P du Plessis (J Figallo 52 min), M Itoje, G Kruis, M Rhodes (J Wray 52 min), W Fraser (J Hamilton 71 min), B Vunipola.
Tries: Duncan Taylor, Chris Wyles, Marcelo Bosch. Cons: Owen Farrell 2. Pens: Owen Farrell 3
EXETER CHIEFS: P Dollman; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten (M Campagnaro 68 min), O Woodburn (J Short 53 min); G Steenson (capt), W Chudley (D Lewis 65 min); B Moon (A Hepburn 46 min), L Cowan-Dickie (J Yeandle 46-68, 77 min), H Williams (T Francis 46 min), M Lees, G Parling (D Welch 64 min), D Ewers, J Salvi (K Horstmann 61 min), D Armand (J Salvi 65 min).
Tries: Jack Yeandle, Jack Nowell. Cons: Gareth Steenson 2. Pens: Gareth Steenson 2.
REFEREE: Wayne Barnes.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Alex Goode