Exeter 34-37 Saracens: Mark McCall's men seal Gallagher Premiership crown at Twickenham
By Michael Cantillon at Twickenham
Last Updated: 01/06/19 9:09pm
A ruthless and clinical Saracens clinched a fourth Premiership title in five seasons - and the second double in their history - courtesy of a 37-34 victory over Exeter Chiefs at a sun-drenched Twickenham.
The final saw no fewer than 10 tries scored - the first of which by Exeter scrum-half Nic White proved the fastest Premiership final try of all time at 27 seconds, beating the previous record of 67 seconds, by Josh Lewsey for Wasps against Gloucester in 2003.
For Saracens, Jamie George (two), Ben Spencer, Liam Williams and Sean Maitland all crossed for tries, with Owen Farrell adding 12 points via his boot after two penalties and three conversions.
The Chiefs, who led 22-16 at half time and 27-16 into the second period, scored through White, Dave Ewers, Jonny Hill, Henry Slade and Sam Hill but could not hold on for a second-ever title.
As a result, Exeter, contesting their fourth successive final, suffered a third defeat in four seasons - all to Mark McCall's Saracens.
Rob Baxter's Chiefs struck inside the first 30 seconds when Saracens lock George Kruis dropped the kick off backwards - the bounce evading Spencer and regathered by Alex Cuthbert - before trademark close-range carries were eventually finished off by a White snipe and dive under Sarries bodies.
Exeter spilled the restart themselves thereafter and were fortunate to avoid a penalty try with Slade sin-binned for a deliberate knock on out wide.
Farrell kicked to the corner though, and seconds later Saracens were over for their opening try in as clinical a nature as Exeter had - a rolling maul marauding forward before hooker George touched down. Farrell surprisingly missed the conversion, however, leaving the Chiefs with a slender advantage.
Minutes later, Farrell was not so profligate off the tee as he struck a penalty from over 30 metres out on a slight angle for an 8-7 lead after a legal Cuthbert poach was penalised for Ewers not rolling away.
Maro Itoje's forward pass in the next meaningful attack saw a promising overload out wide spurned, though Exeter loosehead Ben Moon was penalised at the resultant scrum, from which Sarries struck again - with just seconds remaining on Slade's yellow card.
Vicious ruck clearouts and fast ball created the opening after Billy Vunipola picked from the scrum's base and charged forward to start the attack, with scrum-half Spencer ultimately diving over. Farrell was again off target with the conversion, leaving the gap at six points.
Exeter came within inches of their second try from the restart, as a series of close range shunts in the left corner ultimately ended with Saracens penalised for offside. When Simmonds kicked to the corner, Exeter were held up over the line - on advantage once more - and Itoje was sent to the bin for persistent infringement.
Exeter kicked to the corner again, and though their initial maul was stopped, this time they would not be denied as Ewers crashed over with Moon and Jack Yeandle on his shoulder - a fourth try in a breath-taking opening 20 minutes. Simmonds' exquisite conversion gave Exeter a 14-13 lead.
With seconds left on Itoje's sin-bin period - just as Sarries had done at the other end - Exeter scored again as Hill shrugged off the attentions of George, Vunipola and Williams to reach out and ground. Simmonds hit the post with his conversion, leaving the match a one-score game at 19-13.
Four minutes from the break, Saracens were gifted a soft three points back when Moon returned to his feet having been tackled and Farrell struck off the tee, reducing the deficit to three points.
Ewers was held up over the tryline in the final minute of the half after Jack Nowell had come within inches of scoring, and from the consequent five-metre scrum, Exeter forced a penalty under sticks, which Simmonds tapped over for a 22-16 lead.
Into the second half, Exeter lost a penalty chance when Slade broke the line and charged a kick before Maitland grounded for a 22 dropout - referee Wayne Barnes having called advantage over, depriving the Chiefs of an eminently kickable penalty and potential nine-point lead.
It didn't matter though as Slade soon stretched the Exeter lead out to 11 points when he finished a magnificent move down the right, first finding replacement Sam Skinner with a long left-hand pass, before Skinner beat two men and produced a sumptuous offload inside to Slade, who reached out to score.
In true Saracens fashion, they responded immediately when a wonderful Farrell cross-field kick was terrifically taken by Williams above Simmonds, with the Wales wing finishing in the corner and Farrell then splitting the uprights to leave things 27-23.
With 13 minutes left on the clock, the comeback was complete when Maitland stepped inside Slade and finished after replacement scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth had split the Exeter defence open with a break through the middle of the pitch. Farrell converted for a three-point lead.
Farrell missed the chance to stretch the lead out to six points when he missed a straightforward penalty, but George made sure of victory with his second try when he dived under the sticks with three minutes left.
Replacement Sam Hill notched a consolation try on the 80 minute mark, but the Chiefs were left with a familiar feeling of disappointment, knowing full well they had let a major opportunity slip.