After two very different, but equally impressive, semi-final performances from Exeter Chiefs and Saracens both march towards Twickenham Stadium with their eyes on the Premiership Rugby prize.
Before the season started few would have predicted that the Exeter Chiefs would be in the final. However, after consistently exciting us all with output and attitude their place in the most important game of the season is richly deserved.
Mark McCall’s side continue not to be loved by all but with just 3 losses and one draw in their 23 Premiership matches and 9 wins from 9 in Europe they’re the form side in the Northern Hemisphere and have to be given the respect that they deserve.
So what did we learn from their respective semi-finals? Well, at Allianz Park Saracens showcased the full extent of their try-scoring defence as they ruthlessly dominated Leicester. Richard Cockerill’s Tigers are not a weak side, however under the pressure that Saracens put on them they made handling errors and played far too much rugby between the 10m and the half-way lines. It’s a trap that Exeter cannot fall into, we know that the Chiefs like to play rugby but they need to use their half-backs to gain the right amount of territory and then play from there.
Exeter Chiefs’ semi-final showed us the extend of their mental strength as well as the areas of their game that we’ve come to love. Of the two semi-finals the one at Sandy Park was always going to be the closer of the two and Exeter had to ride out Wasps consistently pushing back at them in the second half. It takes a great deal of collective will to repel a side like Wasps and to do so in a knockout match requires further mental strength. At the time it must have been difficult for Rob Baxter to watch but it should give him the assurance that his side can cope with the pressure come the Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Final.
When it gets to this point in any competition you always hope that there haven’t been too many shock results along the way so that you’ll be watching the best of the best take to the stage for one last time. After the 2015/16 Premiership competition it’s fair to say that we are; Exeter Chiefs and Saracens have led the way over the course of the 22 rounds and both have flourished under rock solid leadership.
At the Premiership Rugby launch Rob Baxter said that he wanted his side to still have a smile on their faces and be filled with energy come May and it’s fair to say that the Chiefs are. That’s down to the culture that has been created at Sandy Park and it’s a culture that comes directly from their Director of Rugby. Rob Baxter is Exeter Chiefs through and through, his technical knowledge is combined with tremendous man management skills and that drives them forwards year on year.
The development of this Saracens squad hasn’t happened overnight instead they’ve matured together and learned from their collective experiences. Throughout the last 22 rounds McCall’s calm and clear leadership has been at the heart of their success. Like Rob Baxter he understands how to get the very best from his players and has managed his squad brilliantly in order to reach week 47 of the season with a motivated and fresh set of players.
At this point in time betting against the European Champions seems to be a foolish decision, Saracens have won both outings against Exeter this season and demolished Leicester just a few days ago. That said the Exeter Chiefs don’t care for historic results and if they start fast, embrace the occasion and take their game to another level again they could complete a meteoric rise from the Championship to the top of the Premiership tree.
By Emma Thurston
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