By Behind the Bench
January 10 2017
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For some, matches are only entertaining if there is free-flowing rugby and plenty of tries, however, a virtually unbreakable rearguard action (completing 93% of their tackles) earned 14 man Saracens a well-merited draw which had everyone on their feet given the intensity and commitment on show.
Indeed, a win to emulate that earned against Gloucester with 14 last season was very much on the cards right until the end, despite being depleted for all but ten minutes of the match following Richard Barrington's sending off for a dangerous tackle on Geoff Parling. A true triumph (or draw at least!) against adversity given that Marcelo Bosch effectively ended up being replaced three times as well.
Saracens sprung a few surprises in their team selection although Alex Goode at full back wasn't one of them. Due to an injury in the Leicester win, Sean Maitland replaced Chris Ashton on the right wing with Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt in the centres and Chris Wyles on the left wing. A changed half-back pairing featured Alex Lozowski and Richard Wigglesworth. Forwards-wise, Richard Barrington, Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo formed the front row, Maro Itoje was back in the second row as Jim Hamilton came in alongside him and a revised back row included Michael Rhodes, Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray. Notably, Duncan Taylor was named on the bench following a long absence with injury, but unfortunately had to leave the fray in the second half for a head injury assessment. Exeter made changes too from the victorious starting line up at Bath. Phil Dollman continued at full back, as did Jack Nowell on the right wing, whilst Henry Slade slotted in alongside Sam Hill at centre, and former Saracens winger James Short was brought in on the left. The half back combination of Gareth Steenson and Will Chudley remained from the win at Bath. A revised front row featured Carl Rimmer, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Greg Holmes, whilst Ollie Atkins and Parling were the new second row duo and Tom Johnson came into the back row alongside the continuing Don Armand and Thomas Waldrom.
After a kicking exchange in the opening minutes, Exeter put together a period of sustained pressure, but were blunted by firm home defence and Saracens forced the penalty to clear the danger, but suffered a blow as Bosch departed with injury after just five minutes. Exeter had a chance to go ahead with seven minutes on the clock after a home infringement at the scrum, but Steenson's effort from 40 metres trickled wide, and three minutes later came the incident which could have conceivably have seen the hosts reduced to 13 men although only Barrington was sent off for his shoulder challenge on Parling, with Brad Barritt's high tackle not deemed worthy of sanction following extensive TMO deliberations. Steenson gave the Chiefs a 3-0 lead from a similar position to his earlier miss. By the quarter hour, Exeter had established a 10-0 lead when Steenson's kick to the corner was perfectly collected by a leaping Nowell to score in the corner for the best piece of attacking quality in the whole match. As the home side looked to regroup, Lozowski was well off target with a drop goal attempt but got the home side on the scoreboard as he converted a scrum penalty in the 22nd minute from 30 metres out. Otherwise, Sarries were struggling to make an impact in attack, their kicks being comfortably dealt with and a threatening maul defused by the Chiefs on the 34th minute, but, in defence, the hosts held their shape well as they allowed them to go through the phases until the knock on came. Armand looked to have scored in the corner in the closing minutes of the half after a break down the right, but the ball was dislodged by a fine Rhodes tackle and the break saw Exeter lead 10-3.
A positive start to the second half saw Saracens on the edge of the visitors' 22 after a lineout infringement by the Chiefs provided the field position, but, again the maul was kept out. Occasional chances came and went as a rare fumble of a high ball by Goode saw Chudley surge forward in pursuit of his own kick on 47 minutes, and five minutes later, Lozowski trimmed the visitors' advantage to four as Exeter's lineout throw was not straight, and from the scrum, they were penalised. In contrast, Steenson missed another kick with 57 minutes as Itoje was pinged at a lineout. Saracens looked to make the most of this let-off as Exeter knocked on from a high kick on the hour mark, providing some much needed territory for the home side and culminating in a kick through which narrowly eluded Wyles on the left wing. Pouncing on another error as the Chiefs lost the lineout, George burst forward into the heart of opposition territory and an angled kick out by Lozowski saw Wyles narrowly miss out on the left again, and when another Exeter lineout went stray soon afterwards, Burger looked to have scored in the resultant passage of play but was adjudged to have knocked on. Exeter responded with a period of pressure as the closing ten minutes approached, and this yielded another three points when Sarries failed to roll away. However, with five minutes to go, Saracens seized their chance. A mazy run by Goode caused confusion in the away defence who infringed, and the kick to the corner brought the lineout, rolling maul and a try for Lamositele, improved by a fine touchline conversion from Lozowski. Steenson had a wayward drop goal attempt for the visitors, but that was it, as the home side forced a turnover to close the match.
15 Alex Goode - 14 Sean Maitland (17 Titi Lamositele 14) - 13 Marcelo Bosch (23 Nick Tompkins 5 / 22 Duncan Taylor 55 / 21 Ben Spencer 70 ) - 12 Brad Barritt (c) - 11 Chris Wyles - 10 Alex Lozowski - 9 Richard Wigglesworth - 1 Richard Barrington - 2 Schalk Brits (16 Jamie George 51) - 3 Juan Figallo (18 Vincent Koch 49) - 4 Maro Itoje - 5 Jim Hamilton - 6 Michael Rhodes (19 Will Skelton 51) - 7 Kelly Brown (20 Schalk Burger 62)- 8 Jackson Wray
15 Phil Dollman - 14 Jack Nowell - 13 Sam Hill - 12 Henry Slade (22 Ian Whitten 63) - 11 James Short - 10 Gareth Steenson - 9 Will Chudley (21 Jack Maunder 65) - 1 Carl Rimmer (17 Ben Moon 49) - 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie (16 Jack Yeandle 53) - 3 Greg Holmes (18 Harry Williams 49) - 4 Ollie Atkins (20 Dave Dennis 45) - 5 Geoff Parling (19 Mitch Lees 11) - 6 Don Armand - 7 Tom Johnson - 8 Thomas Waldrom. Replacement not used: 23 Michel Campagnaro