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By Behind the Bench
May 17 2017

Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens Aviva Premiership Rugby Semi Final Saturday 20 May Sandy Park   After the euphoria of Saturday, Saracens face a challenge every bit as strong as Clermont as they travel to Devon to face an Exeter side who have not been beaten in 15 Premiership matches since they lost at home to Bath in late October, denoting a side, much like their opponents, who find a way to win. As Saracens have gradually built towards European dominance, Exeter appear to be evolving towards a Premiership title, but will it be this season as Sarries' hunger remains for the "double double" undiminished

The sides last met in January when they shared an eventful 13-all draw, in which Saracens had Richard Barrington dismissed after just 15 minutes, and the Chiefs established a 10-3 interval lead through a Jack Nowell try, but the home side scrambled a significant draw through a late Titi Lamositele try. In stark contrast to their dramatic European campaign last season, this time around it trickled out meekly as a home win over Ulster was followed by a comprehensive 48-26 loss at Clermont Auvergne. However, the Devon side made it to a third successive Anglo Welsh Cup, having captured it in 2014 on their home ground when Northampton Saints were defeated for a first major honour, and they were edged out by Saracens at Northampton a year later. Three large wins from four were enough to secure a semi-final this time around, demonstrating the strength in depth at the club, as Harlequins were seen off 24-7, ironically setting up a trip to the Stoop where Leicester prevailed 16-12 in the final. 
Premiership-wise, since their visit to NW4, the nine games played have seen them average over 30 points, claiming a full haul of try bonus points, and in a number of cases, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat or demonstrating an ability to close out games, hallmarks of a successful side which Saracens will be able to identify with. The run began with a classic 35-35 home draw with Wasps as both sides showcased their exciting and varied attacks, but also indicated some defensive frailties too, moving onto a 48-32 win at Worcester with a really intense second half performance which brought them 31 points with a mixture of forward power and slick handling. It was more of the same as ex Saracens winger James Short continued his scoring streak in another bonus point success as Newcastle were defeated 36-14. Even given the hosts' wavering form, the 34-15 win at Leicester Tigers still struck as a decisive statement. However, there was a different facet to their game as Sale and Bristol proved stiffer opposition in consecutive home matches, and both had leads during the games, yet Exeter had the clinical efficiency to emerge with a perfect ten points and a play-off place earnt with three games to go. A tricky trio of closing games led many to suggest that Saracens would edge the Chiefs out of the top two, yet wins were earnt at Harlequins and Gloucester either side of a home match with Northampton.
Where nearly all other sides have failed, Saracens have won successive games here, so would not be as daunted as some other sides. However, they will need a defensive performance every bit as strong as that exhibited north of the border last week. given the prolific nature of the home attack, and a side renowned for its spirit in gaining results even when not at their best. A possible Chiefs line up could see Jack Nowell at full back, as at Gloucester, with Olly Woodburn and Short occupying the wings outside a centre partnership of Ian Whitten and Ollie Devoto, with Gareth Steenson at fly half and Will Chudley at scrum half. Forwards-wise, Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Tomas Francis could form the front row, with Olly Atkins and Geoff Parling in the second row and a back row formed of Julian Salvi, Dom Armand and Thomas Waldrom. For Sarries, more of the same, with Alex Goode at full back, Chrisses Ashton and Wyles on the wings, outside Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, and Owen Farrell teaming up with Richard Wigglesworth in the half backs. Pack-wise, a front row of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Vincent Koch; Maro Itoje and George Kruis in the second row, and a back row of Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola.
The time is now. But whose time?

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17/05/2017 17:36
Thanks Gerard
I have a sneaky feeling about 2 away wins on Saturday!!

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:06:02:15:01:18 by Darraghgirl.

Waldo (IP Logged)
18/05/2017 12:50
There was an interesting observation in the Gruniad - that the Lions management are probably quietly hoping for an Exeter victory at the weekend - that way they get 6 lions released earlier ! (plus a fitness coach ! )

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