Vunipola propels Saracens to Premiership final triumph
Billy Vunipola sent a clear and impressive warning to the Springboks that the man England rely on so much is back to his powerful, beast-like best as Saracens overcame Exeter 27-10 at Twickenham on Saturday to regain the Premiership title.
The forward Eddie Jones's side, who play three Tests in South Africa in June, so badly missed during a miserable Six Nations campaign, bulldozed his way over for one of his team's four tries.
For 58 minutes the formidable Vunipola inspired his team-mates to the kind of power packed performance that has become a Saracens hallmark during a three-year spell which has seen them amass six pieces of silverware.
Brother and England prop Mako Vunipola also produced a strong and destructive front row display and retiring American wing Chris Wyles grabbed two tries as Sarries overcame Exeter in front of a 75,000 crowd to win a fourth domestic league title in seven years.
"The medical staff gave me the chance to play this week, and I wanted to repay them and help the team win. It was a tough game and Exeter did well. But we were in the right place to get the job done and it's always a special feeling," said Billy Vunipola.
"This win feels just as good as all the others. The best teams go on and on winning. We want to do that, and we did it here today," added Mako Vunipola. "We were accurate in everything we did. We have a few generals here who were outstanding. I am just lucky to have so many great team-mates."
Captain Brad Barritt said: "We enjoy playing for this club and winning the big games. But no doubt the boys will celebrate this trophy and then come back next season just as hungry to try and win some more."
Joe Simmonds kicked one early penalty but missed another for defending champions Exeter and it took Saracens nine minutes to gain their first possession of the ball. But once they did, they took this confrontation by the scruff of the neck.
- Vunipola barges over -
Mark McCall's side struck with their first attack. It was decisive and impressive with full-back Alex Goode making the initial break and managing to grab hold of his own high, bouncing kick through ten metres out. A few phases later saw Billy Vunipola using his enormous bulk to force his way across from short range. Farrell kicked the easy extras and the side which lost its European crown to Leinster earlier this month stepped up a gear or two.
Chiefs had been stunned, and were still licking their wounds when a rapid Sarries attack scythed through their thin back line and centre Alex Lozowski fed Wyles to streak clear down the left for the second try.
Exeter suffered the loss of influential flanker Don Armand to injury for a while, with veteran Thomas Waldrom replacing his captain.
He returned just before the break but it changed little as Wyles crossed in the left hand corner six minutes into the second half, and with Farrell adding the conversion Sarries had a major stranglehold on the contest.
The appearance of Schalk Brits as a 53rd-minute replacement was greeted by more cheers of approval by the Sarries supporters, who have taken the retiring 37-year-old South African hooker to their hearts during his nine years at the club.
Unfortunately for Brits, he was walking off the field six minutes later after being shown a yellow card for deliberately entering a ruck from the side as Chiefs camped for once on the Sarries line.
If Exeter were to mount a fightback this was the opportunity. They went agonisingly close to a first try when flanker Dave Ewers just failed to ground the ball and was held up.
Replacement fly-half Gareth Steenson did not fall short when he burst over for that important try, and converted it himself. But replacement Ben Spencer, on for an injured Owen Farrell, kicked a penalty and Brits returned to the fray as a fourth try from replacement wing Nathan Earle sealed the deal.
© 2018 AFP