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By OldMarovian
November 26 2017

Second in the table welcome first and League Champions Exeter Chiefs. It's a beautiful winter day and the air at the sold-out Allianz Park ripples with black and red flags and a fair chill too!

We quickly have the first scrum which provides a decent platform but after failing to make much ground Malins kicks to clear. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the length and is regathered by Chiefs in Sarries half and run back. Sarries concede a penalty and Chiefs call for the corner rather than posts. Having watched the Storm V the Braves yesterday it feels like we all know what's coming but Exeter move the ball from the lineout rather than mauling it. Sarries halt the movement but Brits is penalised for "off his feet" whilst trying to snaffle the ball. Almost in front of the posts, Steenson opts to take the three. 0-3

Sarries counter punch excellently when a Steenson kick is fractionally too long leaving Woodburn marooned in no-mans land between tackling Earle and positioning himself better to show him the outside. Instead, Earle commits him and offloads to Goode who steps through a tackle and over the line for Sarries opening try. In a sensible move, Malins has been left to concentrate on his game-management so Spencer takes the conversion. 7-3

Wray runs the ball back from a Chiefs kick but with two men in support and the Chiefs tryline beckoning takes contact and goes to ground. The ball is recycled and goes wide where White knocks Spencers pass down. Cover is there but it is a clear yellow with no attempt to catch and is given as such. Yellow Nic White.

Sarries go to the lineout and drive. The backs pile in and it looks to be comfortably over the line but the referee isn't sure on the grounding. 9500 Sarries supporters are but inexplicably he wants the TMO to review it! Luckily he sees the same thing as us. The ball grounded and the try given. Spencer steps up for the conversion but pushes the ball wide. 12-3.

Next, we're treated to the very unusual sight of the lesser spotted straight-feed as Steenson (acting as scrum-half) actually rolls the ball through the middle. Clark not displaying the subtlety that made him such a nuisance at Northampton picks it up and sort of waves it at the linesman. What follows would likely have drawn all the twitchers from North London along to Allianz Park had they known, an even lesser spotted strike against the head but the linesman spoils it by saying Sarries collapsed first and the penalty goes to Chiefs.

Sarries regain possession and at the scrum Spencer snipes down the blindside and chips ahead of Turner. Could he have stuck the anchors on an avoided Turner coming across? instead both payers run their lines and when Turner takes Spencer out the ref calls play on. Kvesic concedes a penalty and the still somewhat groggy looking Spencer slots it. 15-3

Exeter kick and Brits takes what look like a knee in the back. I am unsure what the Laws say here but a Chiefs player jumps into Brits who is lifting a player to catch the restart. He cops a knee in the back for his troubles and to me it seemed dangerous and the Chiefs player was never going to get the height to get the ball. Does the Law only protect lifters at the lineout but not in open play?

Earle looks to have picked up a stinger and is in all kinds of trouble. Sarries defend fantastically with 14 men for almost twenty phases but seem to focus on the opposite wing from where Earle is down and Hill is using everything up to and including smoke-signals to suggest they get the ball to him and he takes advantage of the width and man down. Sarries concede the penalty though and Steenson kicks it. 15-6

Some excellent defence from Earle follows as still feeling the effects of his stinger he makes a succession of tackles including a speedbump style one that derails Thomas the Tank-engine from his tracks. The Chiefs are relentless though and they build the pressure till the ball goes wide to Woodburn who is tackled by Earle and Goode who brilliantly manages to turn him and strip him of the ball. The TMO has a look but the try is not given and we get another sticker for the Panini book of "Excellent defence" to show our club rivals who doubt his defence. A couple phases more of defending then Sarries win a penalty and it is cleared to touch for the break.

Halftime and it's concerning to see Brits being taken off the field on a stretcher. Hopefully, he is alright. As the hunter-gatherers descend on the food and drink stands those seated are encouraged to be enthused by the one-off blue Sarries kit. The gentleman on the mic wisely deciding not to try for a second round of applause for how much we like it. Of more interest are the giant blue Allianz Zeppelins that also appear. Maybe the second half will see a slightly more original aerial assault into Chiefs territory?

No sign of plan Zeppelin but it seems Brits is off permanently with Tolofua on in his place. A number of other Saracens players including Earle and Clark have taken big knocks in the first half and whilst they are still game our defence is starting to creak slightly as Chiefs build phase after phase of pressure which only ends when a Chiefs player is penalised for his clearout on Kruis.

Sarries end up with a kick to near the corner and attempt to catch and drive the ball over the line but after a TMO call the ball is deemed short. Exeter clear to touch where Tolfuas radar is slightly off and possession is conceded and a scrum given to Exeter. Shortly after Yeandle is pinged for offside and Sarries kick deep into Chiefs half only to lose possession in the ensuing play. Chiefs seem ascendent now and Sarries defence seems stretched with Whitten running a hard line and Burger scrabbling to get hold of him as he runs past and over the line for Chiefs first try. Steenson converts to narrow the lead to two. 15-13

Sarries are awarded a penalty and showing the sort of economy of movement and power normally only displayed in a demonstration of a Bruce Lee "one-inch punch" Bosch nonchalantly slots the ball from the halfway line. With the score at 18-13, a slight cushion has been re-established.
A bit of kicking ping-pong ensues but either the air catches the Sarries kicks or they are miscued as a couple come to ground not far from where they were kicked leaving Sarries chasers offside and inevitably penalised.

Steensons kicks to touch to set up the driving maul which feels ominous but the ball is knocked on at the lineout after some pressure on the throw by Kruis. A reset scrum and strong carry from the base from Wray result in little as a penalty is given away on the floor. Groundhog day (again!) as we go to lineout for another maul attempt on the line but Yeandles throw is a poor one and Burger gathers the long throw and goes to ground.

With less than ten minutes remaining, the dominance Chiefs have had all day at the scrum is rewarded with a penalty. Somewhat unsurprisingly it goes to the corner and this time the Chiefs maul swamps over the try line with Low emerging from the wreckage as the try-scorer. Steenson makes no mistakes with the easy conversion and Chiefs lead 18-20.

It feels like we could still maybe win this or at least put ourselves in a position to do so will need to be in either kicking range or be patient enough to work the phases something we have failed to do much of the game. An attack on the left wing where Goode puts a speculative kick through with the Chiefs fullback in a position to cover says much about the lack of clarity at this stage. There follows seven minutes of equally frustrating and exciting rugby as Sarries try furiously to give the ball away and Chiefs try just as hard to knock-on or infringe at the breakdown in an attempt to give us our final "get out of jail free card" Chiefs have a chance to take the game to 6 clear with an easy conversion and a better chance of denying Sarries a last minute win via a penalty but they make a bold call to go to the corner and deny Sarries even an LBP if they can get their maul over the line ... they can't.

The game ends not with a bang buy a whimper as Barritt who has carried strongly and direct all day runs himself into a waiting net of Chiefs defenders who hold him up for a maul then Sarries are unable to recycle the ball and the referee ends the game. Exter Chiefs have won.
The common phrase for a lack of leadership in a group is too many Indians, not enough Chiefs. Given some of the performances put in by bruised and battered Sarries bodies I think "Braves" apter but the point stands. Whether it was the coaches or the captaincy it felt to me like our inability to adapt and convey a change of gameplan through the team cost us this game.

You know what Chiefs will bring. An ocean of hard, direct running in multiple phases crashing on the shores of the opposition's defence. No matter how committed or well drilled that defence is that takes its toll and yet we fed them endless possession to run back at us all games. At some point even if the kick and chase is great if you don't force mistakes or collect the ball surely you have to adapt? Instead, we rinsed and repeated. Almost twenty defensive phases and we turn the ball over, what do we do? kick to their back three to collect and run it back. Trailing in the last 6 minutes of the game, what do we do? kick it away again, hasn't worked the last 70 odd minutes but maybe it will now ... ho-hum.

Before the game, I would have been as happy as one of Faggins finest with us plucking an LBP from this game yet after the game this felt like an opportunity missed. We'll next meet the Chiefs in the 6 Nations window, once again neither side with their Internationals but both with plenty to prove. I look forward to the team learning from this game and coming back from Sandy Park having reversed this result.


SARACENS:  Goode, Earle (Ellery), Bosch (Tompkins), Barritt, Wyles, Malin, Spencer (Wigglesworth), Barrington (Thompson-Stringer), Brits (Tolofua), Koch (Figallo), Skelton (Flanagan) Kruis, Clark, Burger (Earl) Wray

EXETER CHIEFS: Dollman, Turner (Short), Whitten, Hill, Woodburn, Steenson, White (Chudley), Moon (Hepburn), Yeandle (Malton), Holmes (Low), Lees, Hill (Skinner), Armund, Kvesic, Waldrom

SARACENS:  Tries - Goode, Brits; Conv: Spencer; Pen:Spencer, Bosch

EXETER: Tries - Whitten, Low; Conv: Steenson (2); Pen: Steenson (2)

Att: 10,000

Referee: Ian Tempest


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26/11/2017 21:16
Thanks OM, as you say a very fair assessment of the game. Wouldn't it have been great to have Mako and Faz sitting on the bench - had they been there we might just have won! Whose decision was it I wonder that they sat in the stands, ours or Eddie's?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 2017:12:06:13:55:43 by Darraghgirl.

OldMarovian (IP Logged)
27/11/2017 07:43
Agree totally DG but equally think we could have won with the team that played and that reflects well on the squad given the disparity in the quality and quantity of absentees for both teams.

Re-reading it this morning it's a touch doom and gloom but there were positives to take from that game. When we kept the ball in hand we looked good and we made a couple of inside breaks. We dealt very well (or Exeter fluffed their lines) with a series of lineout drives and mauls and Malins had a decent game given it was such a huge start.

Was the gameplan and lack of attacking intent a reaction to how we have struggled with handling this season? Maybe.

TonyTaff (IP Logged)
27/11/2017 13:07
Could someone please share this on the Chiefs' messageboard, if not already done?

Same goes for all previews.

This bolsters the income we provide to the Saracens Foundation; this has dropped off recently.

This doesn't apply to match reports where we have won, as these don't attract much readership. Not that we can remember what winning feels like!

721.05 (*) donated to the Saracens Foundation due to visits to the Sarries frontpage []

Please read and submit articles for publication. (*) As at October 31, 2018.

Darraghgirl (IP Logged)
27/11/2017 15:40
Your wish is my command TT.

TonyTaff (IP Logged)
28/11/2017 15:25
Your wish is my command TT.

Cheers DG!

Sometime soon I will get around to updating my signature to include the last 6 month's donation to the Foundation - it was less than 30 sad smiley

721.05 (*) donated to the Saracens Foundation due to visits to the Sarries frontpage []

Please read and submit articles for publication. (*) As at October 31, 2018.

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