Saracens off to winning start at Allianz Park with bonus-point victory over Exeter (From Times Series)
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Saracens score four tries in bonus-point 31-11 victory over Exeter Chiefs in first Premiership match at Allianz Park
5:01pm Saturday 16th February 2013 in Sport
Charlie Hodgson scored the first Premiership try at Allianz Park and kicked a further 11 points from the tee to ensure Saracens got off to a winning start at their new home, beating Exeter Chiefs 31-11.
Saracens took a while to settle into their new surroundings but left a messy first half display behind them in the second period as two Mako Vunipola tries and another from Matt Stevens added to Hodgson’s first half score to cap an imperious second half performance.
Mouritz Botha and Will Fraser both returned to the Saracens starting line-up but Mark McCall’s men still needed to prove themselves able to deal without several stars away on Six Nations duty.
And the early signs were not encouraging as Saracens were – just as they were against London Irish last week - guilty of trying to convert possession into points too quickly.
Allianz Park’s artificial surface is supposed to be more conducive to rugby’s more eye-catching aspects but the first half was strewn with handling errors and misplaced passes.
Hodgson created the hosts’ first opportunity, charging down Gareth Steenson’s attempted clearance before releasing Joel Tomkins out wide but the outside centre’s pass to James Short hit the floor and danger was averted.
The sloppiness wasn’t just in the hands though as Hodgson, usually so dependable from the tee, skewed three straightforward penalties wide of the mark and Steenson was guilty too, missing one of his own at the other end.
In between Hodgson’s kicking woes Luke Arscott was sin-binned for Exeter and Saracens were having the better of the game, dominating up front and looking threatening through midfield.
It was the visitors though who broke the stadium’s Premiership points duck with Steenson slotting home a penalty in the 24th minute to put Exeter 3-0 ahead.
If Hodgson’s right foot was out of tune however, the veteran’s distribution was as rhythmic as ever, as he released Tomkins for another break down the left before taking matters into his own hands and bursting through the Exeter defence for a Saracens try just after half an hour.
Hodgson converted his own score to establish a 7-3 advantage and, with his kicking troubles seemingly behind him, it was the turn of Steenson to lose his radar as he skewed two penalties wide before the break.
Saracens were as dominant in the second half though as they were sloppy in the first and Hodgson extended the home side’s advantage to seven with a penalty three minutes into the second half and six minutes later Sarries made their pressure pay with a second try.
Showing a patience lacking for so much of the first 40 minutes, Saracens waited for their opportunity from close range and Stevens duly touched down before Hodgson added the extras to make it 17-3.
Steenson reduced the deficit by three but within five minutes Saracens were in again – this time Mako Vunipola the man on hand to bundle his way over for the Men in Black’s third score to put Exeter out of sight.
Hodgson, having seemingly rediscovered his shooting boots, kicked his third conversion out of three to take the score to 24-6.
Ferocious in the pack, Saracens were relentless at the breakdown and it wasn't long before Vunipola scored his second and Saracens’ fourth try to put the result well beyond doubt.
There was still time for an Exeter consolation late on as Richard Baxter went over in what was their first meaningful attack of the half but the damage had already been done and Saracens got off to the perfect start at Allianz Park with a comfortable bonus-point victory.
Saracens will be hoping to carry their second half performance into next weekend when they travel to Leicester Tigers.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles 14 James Short 13 Joel Tomkins 12 Adam Powell 11 David Strettle 10 Charlie Hodgson 9 Neil de Kock 1 Mako Vunipola 2 John Smit 3 Matt Stevens 4 Steve Borthwick © 5 Mouritz Botha 6 Jackson Wray 7 Will Fraser 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements: 16 Jamie George 17 Nick Auterac 18 Petrus du Plessis 19 Alistair Hargreaves 20 Justin Melck 21 Richard Wigglesworth 22 Nils Mordt 23 Joe Maddock
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott 14 Jack Nowell 13 Ian Whitten 12 Jason Shoemark 11 Matt Jess 10 Gareth Steenson 9 Will Chudley 1 Ben Moon 2 Neil Clark 3 Hoani Tui 4 Dean Mumm 5 Damian Welch 6 Richard Baxter (capt) 7 James Scaysbrook 8 Kai Horstmann
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle 17 Carl Rimmer 18 Alex Brown 19 Tom Hayes 20 Aly Muldowney 21 Haydn Thomas 22 Ignacio Mieres 23 Phil Dollman