Exeter see off Saracens to make Aviva Premiership final
By Louise Warr
Last Updated: 24/05/17 11:58am
A last-gasp try from Sam Simmonds secured a shock 18-16 victory for Exeter Chiefs over Saracens to book their place in next weekend's Aviva Premiership final.
It was a tired looking performance from Mark McCall's side who secured back-to-back European titles with a win over Clermont seven days ago, and Exeter made their opponents pay for a string of uncharacteristic errors.
A Mike Ellery try five minutes from time looked to have sealed the victory for Saracens, but it was the Chiefs and replacement Sam Simmonds that had the final say clinching the match-winning try as the clock ticked red.
Saracens, who were led out by Owen Farrell in the absence of captain Brad Barritt, got the first points on the board after four minutes, the fly-half slotting his penalty attempt from 49 metres out.
The north London club looked to dominate their opponents in the opening exchanges with passages of sustained pressure inside Chiefs' territory but were unable to make their territory tell on the scoreboard.
With scrum penalties and the bounce of the ball going against them, Saracens were dealt a double blow before the game reached the 12-minute mark, losing influential duo Michael Rhodes and Chris Ashton to injuries.
A collapsed scrum five metres out allowed Farrell to keep the scoreboard ticking over for his side and had the opportunity for more just moments later, instead they opted for the corner and a tap-penalty five metres out which they failed to convert into points.
Exeter soon turned the heat on their opponents, James Short capitalising on some sloppy passing from his former club to race into the 22 leading to two Saracens infringements and a penalty kick for Steenson, who got his side up and running on the scoreboard on the 26-minute mark.
The Exeter fly-half further punished some uncharacteristic Saracens indiscipline with a second penalty, leaving the scores level after half an hour of the nail-biting contest.
Saracens continued to find themselves under the cosh and could have easily found themselves trailing on the scoreboard before the break had it not been for the great work over the ball from the younger of the two Vunipola brothers to win the penalty with the Chiefs just inches away from the line.
Despite the endeavour and spark of the Chiefs and the cracks starting to open, the reigning champions hung on to keep the scores level at the break.
The pressure finally paid dividends for the Chiefs two minutes into the second hal. Phil Dolman's slicing break set up the field position and Nowell bundled over from close range to send his side into the lead for the first time. Steenson duly added the conversion.
Saracens however, were not going to give up their Premiership crown without a fight and got themselves back to within two points of the Chiefs with a Chris Wyles try in the 57th minute, but Farrell failed to convert.
And Saracens thought they had secured their place in a fifth consecutive semi-final when Ellery went over with an acrobatic finish in the corner. Farrell was once again off target with his conversion attempt, leaving the score at 13-16 in the favour of the visitors.
However, one last twist remained. An Exeter penalty inside their own half at scrum time handed Henry Slade the opportunity to fire the ball down to within seven metres of the Saracens line.
And from the lineout, Simmonds powered his way over at the back of the rolling maul to secure the victory to send Exeter to Twickenham.