MATCH REPORT | Exeter Chiefs 24-21 Saracens Women (AP15s Semi-Final)
Sometimes, there just aren’t any words.
Despite a heroic performance on the road, Saracens Women were denied a spot in the final in the cruellest way possible, as Exeter scored a last-minute try to take a narrow victory.
Whilst the spot in the final may have evaded Saracens, the squad can take great heart from how they have fought back through adversity this season.
Against a wall of vocal home support, Sarries were forced to defend early on, as Exeter applied the pressure.
On previous visits to Sandy Park, Exeter have profited from those types of positions but that wasn’t so today, as the Saracens wall stood firm.
In truth, this was a match that bubbled and boiled, without truly bursting into life until midway through the first half.
It was Saracens who fired the first shots too, as Lotte Clapp worked her way up to the line after a delicate chip from Holly Aitchison, only for a penalty to be given up moments later.
Eventually though, the pressure told, as Hannah Botterman crashed over from close range after the forwards had dragged Exeter from one side to other.
Sarries were all over Exeter now, as Sarah McKenna probed the backfield with a clever kick through.
On the half hour mark, it was McKenna who would strike too, for her side’s second try. This was another fine score from the side, as Clapp burst through to feed McKenna on her inside and silence the Devon crowd.
The hosts were desperately searching for a response, but they were unable to find it, as Georgia Evans popped up with a crucial turnover.
The momentum of the first half though, was washed away at the start of the second, as Exeter scored early on.
After breaking free down the left-hand side, Exeter kept the ball moving quickly, allowing Kate Zackary to go over.
Sarries were still hunting in defence, but they were getting no joy at the breakdown, as Exeter continued to apply the pressure.
After McGoverne had added a penalty to her side’s tally, Aitchison saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on, before Marlie Packer followed her off the field for the same offence minutes later.
The momentum had truly swung in the hosts’ favour now, as Hope Rogers barrelled over to take her side into a slender lead.
Sarries were desperately searching for a spark to get themselves back into the match and they found it as Poppy Cleall stripped the ball in contact and booted the ball down the field, to force Exeter back.
The pressure was now all back on Exeter, as they struggled to live with the Saracens power game. After another huge break from Packer, Sarries began to hammer away at the Exeter line, with wave after wave of dominant carries.
Eventually, the pressure told, as Aitchison again put boot to ball, to find Jess Breach out wide.
The fly half then coolly slotted the touchline conversion to take her side into a four-point lead with little under ten minutes remaining.
Exeter though worked their way back into the Saracens 22, as the referee’s whistle allowed them to keep finding territory.
Sarries then lost Georgia Evans to the bin, as they defended with everything they had.
In the end though, it wasn’t to be, as Exeter scored in the cruellest of fashions to snatch the tie away from Saracens at the death.
Sport can be cruel. It brings the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Now for Saracens, the challenge is to regroup and go again, after a season from which they can take significant learnings.