It was the greatest comeback, by the greatest English club team of all, in the greatest Premiership final — inspired by the England captain’s timely do-or-die address.
Saracens clinched a double Double with a remarkable demonstration of character in the final quarter, thanks to Owen Farrell’s blunt call to arms.
The European champions had been pushed to the precipice by Exeter. Henry Slade’s glorious try had put the dominant Chiefs 27-16 up and the title appeared to be heading to Devon.
Saracens completed a comeback win over Exeter to win Premiership and seal double Double
Farrell wouldn’t accept that. He demanded a riposte and it came, with three tries in the space of 16 minutes which turned this epic occasion upside down. Such leadership was just what his club needed, and it may be just what his country needs too, in a few months’ time.
Sarries centre Alex Lozowski said: ‘When we were behind the posts again and were trailing big time, we didn’t have a choice. We had to go and do it. Faz got us in and said we had not done what we said we were going to do. It was do or die.’
England hooker Jamie George, whose second try of the game ultimately propelled Saracens to their latest triumph, added: ‘We’re led so well by Brad (Barritt) and Owen in situations like that — especially Owen, at the time when Henry scored in the corner.
‘He said, “We’ve got a choice to make, we either roll over and die or have a crack at this’. He spoke brilliantly. He did the same against Leinster in the Champions Cup final.’
Owen Farrell earned praise from players and coaches for his inspirational half-time speech
Mark McCall, the victorious director of rugby, joined the tributes to Farrell, but also to his familiar half-back partner, who came off the bench to make a telling contribution.
‘I thought Owen and Wiggy (Richard Wigglesworth) were masterful in how they controlled the last 15-20 minutes,’ he said.
Up until the hour, Exeter had seized control. Driven on by mighty flanker Dave Ewers and so many powerful pack allies, Rob Baxter’s side had the better of the physical contest and were also managing to carve open their opponents’ fabled ‘Wolfpack’ defence in the wider channels. There was the rare sight of Saracens lacking energy, intensity and accuracy.
‘We were second best at everything in the 20 minutes before half-time,’ said McCall. ‘Exeter were phenomenal. We couldn’t control them. We weren’t great at the start of the second half either. We found a way. I’m not sure how we did, but we did.
‘I thought we looked dead on our feet when they scored and it was 27-16. Yet, for the last 15 minutes, it looked like we had all the energy in the world.
‘We could have been crushed but we weren’t. The players grabbed hold of it.’
Mark McCall believes his team’s game management in the final stages was crucial to victory
Jamie George, who scored two tries, believes his side were poor despite good preparation
George delivered a similarly honest verdict, adding: ‘The shock that I had today was how poor we were considering how well we prepared. Overall, we’re pretty disappointed with the way we played but it doesn’t matter, we are the ones with the trophy.’
The bad news for Exeter and the rest of the Premiership is that Saracens can win the title with a one-quarter escape act. The even worse news is that they intend to keep building their dynasty of success. They already have a treble Double in their minds.
‘I think we will probably enjoy the next few days, then reflect and realise what a great achievement it is,’ said Lozowski. ‘Maybe when we all retire, it will be nice to look back on, but the boys are all so hungry. I think they want to enjoy the off-season, come back and do it all again.’
The grim aspect of Saturday’s enthralling event was the injury suffered by Jack Nowell, who ignited Exeter with his lethal running from full-back. England head coach Eddie Jones, who was watching from the stand, will anxiously await updates about suspected knee and ankle damage.
England winger Jack Nowell ended the game on crutches after injuring his knee and ankle
Henry Slade scored a try for Exeter but admitted he was gutted to lose the final
Having been close by when Nowell was turned over backwards in a tackle and left in agony on the pitch, George said: ‘He’s one of my good mates so that was horrible to see and hear. I’ve got everything crossed for him, hoping that he’ll be fine. He’s pretty sore so we’ll see how it goes.’
Slade added: ‘He has hurt his ankle and his knee — it looked pretty rank, didn’t it? But he’s on crutches and he’s hopping about. I want to know the stats of how many tackles he broke in the first half. He beat so many defenders and got us on the front foot. He played outstandingly.’
For the shattered Chiefs, it was a painful day all round. ‘It’s never good losing a final,’ said Slade. ‘I’ve never cried after losing a game but I’m struggling to get my words out. It’s absolutely gutting. That’s probably the worst I’ve ever felt after a game. We had them. But we can keep that feeling and use it to drive us forward for next season.’
Exeter are convinced they can keep improving, but so are Saracens. The rest have been warned.