England star Maro Itoje credited the whole of the Saracens set-up as the defending champions fought off the challenge of Exeter Chiefs with an all-powerful final display at Twickenham.
A thrilling climax to the domestic season saw ten tries shared as many of England’s 2019 Guinness Six Nations stars clashed against each other in London, Saracens winning back-to-back titles for the second time.
Exeter edged the first half with three tries to two but the game turned on the hour as Wales’ Liam Williams, Scotland’s Sean Maitland and finally, England’s Jamie George saw off the Chiefs challenge.
“It’s hard to put it into words, to be honest,” commented Itoje. “We’ve been working towards this all year and it’s a big credit to the team, credit to all the support staff. It was a massive effort.
“It’s getting harder every year and each time, we’re having to dig deeper. Fair play to Exeter. They’re a top, top side and they’re by far the second-best team in the competition.
“That game was all character. We didn’t really play well, to be honest. For large parts of the game, we didn’t play well and give ourselves the best opportunities. Luckily, we had the time to rescue it.”
A captivating English Premiership final began like a house on fire as Saracens failed to gather the kick-off and after a succession of drives at the line, scrum-half Nic White smartly sniped in under the defence.
The response was immediate as the Londoners fought their way upfield and hooker George got over through a forwards effort, after Henry Slade had seen yellow for a deliberate knock-on.
🏆 CHAMPIONS 🏆
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Saracens’ power-game threatened to overrun the Chiefs and they opened a gap on 14 minutes as Ben Spencer, who made his Championship debut against Scotland back in March, ghosted through the lines.
Exeter were determined not to be pushed over and they took advantage of Itoje being yellow-carded to get their second, Dave Ewers forcing his way over from short range for a 14-13 lead.
Rob Baxter’s men enjoyed a period of dominance and some excellent play, eventually rewarded with their third try through Jonny Hill on 31 minutes, pegged back slightly by an Owen Farrell penalty for a 22-16 half-time lead.
Exeter continued to push after the break and got an excellent fourth on 58 minutes, 2019 Guinness Six Nations star Slade diving over in the corner after Scotland man Sam Skinner had skipped away down the touchline.
Itoje commented on the mood as his side trailed 27-16: “We had no choice. We either had to sit back and let it happen and lose this opportunity, or go out there and give it our all.
“We had some fantastic leaders in our team – guys like Owen (Farrell), Wiggy (Richard Wigglesworth) – and managed to get the ball back.”
The champions took over at that point, first with Farrell dinking out wide to Williams and then Maitland crossing in the corner to finish off an overlap.
Farrell kicked both conversions for a 30-27 lead going into the final ten minutes, England hooker George bursting under the posts to wrap up the game to render Sam Hill’s added-time try as a mere consolation.
The win means it’s five titles in nine years for the men from north London.
Itoje continued: “It means an awful lot to me on a personal level but to be honest, I’m more happy for the squad.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve put a lot of hours to make this performance happen, so I’m just so happy for everyone in the Saracens organisation.”