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Lack of discipline proves costly as Saracens lose 14-12 to Exeter Chiefs
Sireli Naqelevuki’s second-half try condemned Saracens to a 14-12 defeat at the hands of a physical and well-organised Exeter Chiefs side.
The Men in Black had opportunities to win the match but ill-discipline allowed the Chiefs to dictate the tempo throughout.
Saracens handed debut starts to Jamie George, Alistair Hargreaves and Duncan Taylor while Owen Farrell retained his place at fly-half and Neil de Kock made his 150th appearance for Mark McCall's men.
It was the hosts though who started brightly and Exeter could have opened the scoring when Haydn Thomas charged down near the Saracens line but with pressure building a knock-on meant the visitors survived.
When the breakthrough did eventually arrive it came for Saracens. James Scaysbrook was penalised at the scrum and Owen Farrell, in the spotlight after a disappointing display against Leicester last week, decisively slotted home.
Farrell looked in confident mood and after Exeter’s Ignacio Mieres had drawn the Chiefs level with a well-taken penalty, the Saracens number 10 kicked another three points to give Saracens a 6-3 lead.
Mieres missed an opportunity to draw level from the tee before Saracens skipper Kelly Brown was sin-binned for slowing down the play and gifted Exeter another chance from the tee.
Mieres this time made no mistake kicking through to make it 6-6, before minutes later firing Exeter into the lead with a monster kick from five meters inside the Saracens half to make it 9-6 at the break.
It wasn’t long after the interval though before Saracens were back on level terms, again with a penalty, and again with Farrell finding the target.
But fifteen minutes into the second half, Exeter seized the initiative. Ill-discipline from Saracens winger Chris Ashton saw him sin-binned and, despite missing the subsequent penalty Exeter soon made the extra man count.
With pressure mounting on the Saracens line, the Chiefs attacked the blind side - Ashton's wing - with Will Chudley playing in Matt Jess who in turn fed Naqelevuki to go over for the first try of the game.
Mieres missed the conversion however and the groans from the home crowd suggested they knew every point could count in this tightly-contested affair.
Minutes later another infringement from the Chiefs allowed Farrell the chance to reduce the deficit which the Saracens fly-half duly did, finding the target to make it 14-12.
Just before the hour mark the visitors had the chance to take the lead. Exeter's Chris Whitehead was sin-binned for playing the ball on the floor but Farrell was this time unable to make the penalty count.
With nine minutes to go Charlie Hodgson took on an ambitious penalty against the wind just inside the Exeter half but his effort fell short to set up a nervy finish.
With seconds left on the clock, the visitors were awarded a penalty which Hodgson kicked into the corner for a Saracens line-out.
But, with the stage all set for a drop-goal finish, Saracens were impatient and a knock-on from Matt Stevens allowed the referee to blow the final whistle and confirm Exeter's hard-fought victory.
Saracens’ next match is next Sunday against Harlequins at Twickenham.
Referee: S Davey
Saracens :- Alex Goode , Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt , James Short, Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock , Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Carlos Nieto, Alistair Hargreaves, Mouritz Botha, Kelly Brown ©, Will Fraser, Jackson Wray
Subs:- Schalk Brits, Rhys Gill, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick , Ernst Joubert, Richard Wigglesworth, Charlie Hodgson, Joel Tomkins
Exeter: - Luke Arscott, Phil Dollman, Ian Whitten, Sireli Naqelevuki, Matt Jess, Ignacio Mieres, Haydn Thomas, Brett Sturgess, Chris Whitehead, Carl Rimmer, Tom Hayes (c), James Hanks, James Phillips, James Scaysbrook, Richard Baxter
Subs:- Simon Alcott, Ben Moon, Chris Budgen, Aly Muldowney, Ben White, Will Chudley, Gareth Steenson, Jack Nowell