LONDON – Saracens completed their second domestic and European double in three years with the greatest comeback in the history of the English Premiership final as they rallied to beat Exeter 37-34 at Twickenham on Saturday.
When Exeter led by 11 points after an hour it seemed they were about to get revenge for their defeat by Saracens in last season’s final.
But Saracens’ fightback in a 10-try extravaganza left the 2017 champions’ hopes of a second English title in tatters and gave more reason to believe this Sarries outfit is the best English rugby club side ever.
Watching England coach Eddie Jones would have been both exhilarated and impressed by the part played in this pulsating contest by so many of the stars he will be taking to Japan later this year, trying to prove they deserve to start in the opening game of the World Cup.
“It was as close to a Test match as you will get,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
“It was fast, furious and no backwards step taken by any of the guys.
“They are such a fantastically brave and courageous bunch of lads who just don’t know when to stop giving everything,” the former Ireland centre added.
📝|— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) June 1, 2019
What more is there to say about this group? They continue to defeat the odds. ⚫🔴
Champions of England to add to their European crown. 🏆🏆
Here's how they did it 👇
But while Exeter threatened to upset the odds when they led 22-16 at the break and controlled the game for long parts, it was Saracens, winners over Irish powerhouse Leinster in last month’s European Champions Cup final, who once again came through when it mattered.
But the London club only lifted their eighth major trophy in as many years – and fifth English title – after being pushed hard by Exeter on a sun-drenched day at Twickenham.
“We have come second to an incredible side and I could not have asked for more from the players,” said Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter.
“We controlled the first half and could have been further ahead.
“But against Saracens you have to do it for 80 minutes and keep them down because they have the potential to come back from a deficit and they find a way of winning.”
Nobody could have expected the dramatic and blistering opening to this contest, with Exeter taking 26 seconds from the kick-off to score the first try.
Wing Alex Cuthbert dropped on the ball and it was recycled to scrum-half Nic White to dart over for a fine score.
Exeter, however, lost Henry Slade to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock on when Alex Goode’s pass looked set to send Sean Maitland over the line.
Saracens’ forwards stepped up to bulldoze their way across and England hooker Jamie George rose to take the plaudits.
📹 Reaction | @rwiggy9 somehow sums up an incredible game of rugby at Twickenham as Sarries retain their @PremRugby title!— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) June 1, 2019
💬 "Somehow this group found a way!" 💬#TogetherSaracens ⚫️🔴 pic.twitter.com/IeINWLrb4W
England captain Owen Farrell found his range with a penalty to poke Sarries in front and Ben Spencer dived over a try to seemingly put them in control.
But the Chiefs hit back. With Saracens a man down after England lock Maro Itoje was sent to the sin-bin for persistent foul play at the rucks, Exeter flanker Dave Ewers ploughed over for a try.
Fellow back rower Jonny Hill followed with another try and Joe Simmonds’ penalty gave Exeter a six point half-time lead.
Exeter seemed to have the game in their grasp when replacement Sam Skinner’s outstanding offload put Slade over for the fourth try.
But when Wales star Liam Williams leapt and caught fly-half Farrell’s cross-kick en route to a try, the contest was still alive.
Farrell converted and the team which has become so used to winning showed just why they are so successful.
Applying pressure up the middle and stretching the Chiefs’ defence, Saracens moved the ball to the left wing for Maitland to force his way over. Farrell’s conversion gave them a three-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
George out the result beyond doubt four minutes from time courtesy of his second try, with Sam Hill’s consolation score in the dying seconds too late for Exeter.AFP