Owen Farrell’s injury dampens mood for Saracens after last-minute victory in Exeter

Maro Itoje offices held – PA

We can’t have peak parties every week – and thank God for that. Tense and tough duels have their place and this, ultimately won with a last-ditch penalty from Alex Goode’s boot, saw the Saracens stage a notable heist to oust Exeter Chiefs and record a sixth consecutive win at the start of this season.

Even if he was heartened by Maro Itoje’s performance and drawn to the show, Eddie Jones would have looked through his fingers and may still need a significant rethink of England’s autumn plans.

Both Luke Cowan-Dickie, his first-choice prostitute, and Owen Farrell left the camp early. The latter suffered a concussion and was replaced by Goode, who was making his 338th appearance at the club.

Upon death, in a chorus of taunts, Goode maintained his composure superbly to end a cranky contest by punishing a scrum offense from Exeter. Seconds earlier, it looked like the Chiefs had done enough to overturn a 19-10 lead.

Alex Goode takes the winning penalty - Getty Images

Alex Goode takes the winning penalty – Getty Images

The Saracens haven’t won here in the Premiership since 2016, a five-defeat streak including a brutal play-off semi-final in 2017, and they garnered a smattering of boos as Farrell led them into the Devon drizzle.

Ben Earl forced a breakdown turnover early on, but Farrell’s reaction to a late cancellation from Harry Williams saw the penalty canceled by Tom Foley. Poor discipline paralyzed the Saracens at Sandy Park a year ago and Farrell was hit with sin moments later when he blocked an Exeter attack from an offside position tripping Jack Nowell.

Chiefs fans rose to cheer Farrell towards the sideline, but they must have been frustrated by the next 10 minutes as a combination of tireless tackling and a robust lineout defense kept the score at 0-0. A maul hit was Farrell’s cue to return, to more whistles, as Stuart Hogg trotted in the opposite direction for a head injury assessment (HIA).

On the wet surface, the scrums were a mess and the first quarter ended without either side finding fluency. However, after an effective retrieve from the combative Jacques Vermeulen, Exeter had his first chance for points and Henry Slade scored from 45 meters.

This would only unleash the Saracens. From a scrum around the half way line, Alex Lozowski kicked Elliot Daly, who fed Max Malins. When the ball rolled back through the 22 Chiefs, Farrell sent McFarland to pass before converting the try.

Nowell typically remained busy and appeared in midfield to equalize a penalty on Ben Earl for a high tackle. Slade went to the corner but Farrell hid and Exeter broke. After passing his HIA, Hogg lifted the crowd with a pause. Daly covered well.

More lively than Nowell he earned another penalty and a close lineout. This time, the Chiefs’ unity has taken hold. With the Saracens hopelessly chipped, Mako Vunipola dragged the fray down. Foley immediately brandished the yellow and needed only one replay to assign a penalty try as well.

Exeter looked ready to take a subtle lead in the interval until Maro Itoje slipped into a ruck and dumped on Ivan van Zyl. The bosses failed to roll away from the tackle and Daly teamed up with a gripping 40 minute final act.

After spending most of the first period absorbing the pressure, the Saracens immediately invited more. Nowell was the catalyst again, picking up a pass from Slade and running the 50m restart.

Dave Ewers pounces on Nick Tompkins for a penalty for failure and Exeter is back in the corner. Jack Yeandle, instead of Cowan-Dickie, failed to direct his shot straight enough.

The hosts are still pressing. Slade was put in muscular contact by Daly after diving in to pick up Hogg’s grubber and Christ Tshiunza’s charge out of bounds required the Saracens to scramble desperately as well.

Shortly before Mako Vunipola’s return, an early tackle gave the Saracens a valuable position on the pitch. The defense of Exeter held out until another pick and go from Itoje. Slade made a brave tackle but Harvey Skinner was booked for a ruck infraction. Farrell’s kick gave the Saracens a 13-10 lead.

Hogg overturned a high ball and was promptly substituted, much to his obvious frustration. The Scottish full-back shrugged to his coaches in the stands. The Saracens, meanwhile, imposed another controversial breakdown penalty, which Farrell got a six-point lead.

McCall’s men were starting to turn the screw, but they should have sailed in the last quarter without their skipper. When a shoddy Van Zyl pass slid across the turf, a diving Farrell was accidentally caught by Joe Simmonds’ knee. Goode entered the fray.

Owen Farrell dies - Getty Images

Owen Farrell dies – Getty Images

Thanks to a dominant scrum, the Saracens remained in the lead and Daly’s 50m shot gave them some light on 19-10. It didn’t last. Sam Simmonds shrugged off tacklers to punch 22 and Skinner’s darting rush brought Exeter close. Sam Maunder snipe is almost done. Vermeulen’s shunt worked. Suddenly, with Slade’s conversion, Exeter was less than two.

A quick melee strike, orchestrated by Slade, quickly swept them forward again. Three minutes from the end, the Saracens were penalized for a breakdown. Slade called for the tee and a guttural applause sucked him through the goalposts. The drama would end in a fascinating way.

Exeter made a round of maul, but still had to survive a scrum put-in. A knock-on gave the Saracens another chance. It was all they needed. Patrick Schickerling collapsed under pressure from Mako Vunipola. Goode did the rest, emerging as the hero.

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