If you’d offered Saracens and Exeter the start they’ve made to the domestic season back in August, they would have bitten far more than hands off. Collectively, they have picked up 82 out of a possible 90 points after 9 rounds, with the only defeat for either team coming in Round 8 for Exeter away at Harlequins, while Saracens remain unbeaten. On Saturday, the two English titans will meet at Sandy Park in the most anticipated match-up of the Premiership season so far.
Sarries head into the game boasting marginally superior form and a two-point league advantage over of their hosts. Staggeringly, they remain unbeaten since an April Fool’s Day defeat to Leinster and have dispatched Cardiff Blues twice in consecutive weeks to secure four wins from four in Europe.
However, recent performances have not quite matched the results and Saracens will be looking to put that right this weekend.
Last week, Owen Farrell said Saracens were “too nice” in their clash with Cardiff Blues, whilst Director of Rugby Mark McCall criticised Saracens’ rolling maul defence, describing it as something that they “need to get better at.”
Saracens will face no greater test for rolling maul defence this weekend, with the Chiefs renown for their rolling maul and pick and go game standing as a genuine concern for any opponent. Certainly, there is no space for being “too nice” or lapses in maul defence this week if Saracens are to come away with a win.
Meanwhile, Exeter head into the weekend on the back of a huge win over Gloucester at Kingsholm, which just about keeps their Champions Cup interest alive.
On a wider note, the performance seems to suggest that Chiefs have managed to ‘get their mojo back’ after a relatively shaky couple of weeks with back-to-back defeats away at Harlequins and at home to Gloucester, the latter coming in the Champions Cup and the former the Premiership.
The win at Kingsholm last Friday seemed to indicate that Exeter have returned to type of form that has profited such success over the past few seasons; which comes at a perfect time with Sarries coming to town. They dominated Gloucester up front and got over the whitewash four times from close range to show they are ready to take the forward battle to Saracens.
Outside the pack, Santiago Cordero’s dancing feet will no doubt cause Sarries problems, putting team into the kind of positions they have proved themselves lethal. Furthermore, this game will be of interest to far more than just Chiefs and Sarries fans.
This fixture could have seen a host of England internationals go head-to-head, however injury has curtailed the possibility of Luke Cowan-Dickie vs Jamie George, Sam Simmonds vs Billy Vunipola and Henry Slade vs Alex Lozowski. While England boss Eddie Jones will certainly be disappointed, there are ample battles across the park that will not only determine Saturday’s match, but also potential Six Nations selections.
Three of England’s first choice loosehead props are set to feature in the clash, with Mako Vunipola attempting to show Jones that he deserves to start against Ireland in February over Chiefs duo Alex Hepburn or Ben Moon, who deputised for Vunipola in the Autumn Internationals.
Similarly, Exeter lock Jonny Hill will be looking to show Jones that he can go toe-to-toe with British and Irish Lion George Kruis and fellow summer tourist and England outsider Nick Isiekwe. With Maro Itoje sidelined with a knee injury, Hill will be looking to make up lost ground on the likes of Isiekwe and Bath pairing Charlie Ewels and Elliot Stooke.
With Saracens and Exeter so far ahead of the chasing pack in the Premiership, this game itself is unlikely to have a huge bearing on the league table, although it could dictate who will get the honour of being crowned the regular season winner in May.
Saracens will also be looking to improve their recent record at Sandy Park, which does not read favourably having not won there since September 2016, with three defeats in a row if you include February’s defeat in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Tickets for this clash sold out in October. It’s sure to be a festive treat on Saturday at 3pm.