Exeter boss Rob Baxter declared the Chiefs could put their anger at Saracens’ salary cap breach behind them following a 14-7 victory over their arch-rivals – only to then brand them “cheats”.
In the first clash since Saracens were docked 35 points and fined £5.4million for breaking the Gallagher Premiership’s ceiling on player wages, Exeter emerged winners through tries by Nic White and Jacques Vermeulen.
The Chiefs have been the greatest victims of the scandal after losing the two most recent Premiership finals to the champions, who were found to have transgressed for each of the last three seasons.
Owner Tony Rowe has demanded Saracens be stripped of their titles and threatened legal action.
Having initially struck a conciliatory tone after the triumph at Sandy Park, Baxter then opened fire on Mark McCall’s men.
“The best thing about getting this game done is that we can move on,” Baxter said.
“This is a third of the way through the Premiership and we don’t play Saracens again until May, so we need to move on because there are a lot of other important games to play.
“The players have lost a couple of finals to Saracens and they want to be successful in their own right. They want to be winning trophies and titles themselves.
“People have to be careful thinking that Exeter’s only motivation is Saracens because it’s not. Saracens are just one step of the journey.”
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) December 29, 2019
But Baxter then continued on BBC Radio 5 Live: “There are supporters of rugby clubs who have watched coaches getting sacked and players leave and all different kinds of things, and part of that has been because of Saracens cheating. You can’t run away from it.
“Sometimes the people who have pointed out that Saracens have cheated almost get pointed out to be the bad guys.
“Well, the people who have made comment on it aren’t the cheats. And that is the bit that some rugby supporters have felt more frustrated about.”
Exeter’s win was marred by a red card shown to Harry Williams who, having been substituted, later left the dug-out to get involved in a mass brawl.
“I have had a chat with Harry and he is obviously disappointed with it,” Baxter said.
“He has not gone in there and done anything physically violent. He has gone in there because he saw an Exeter Chiefs player was surrounded and mobbed. He felt he was helping out.
It's just got very heated at Sandy Park! 😡🤬
Duncan Taylor grappled into touch and a large mele ensues…
Harry Williams earns a second yellow card for his involvement from the bench. 🔴 pic.twitter.com/tqGpivNoPO
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 29, 2019
“We need to have a good look at it and see what the outcome of that will be because ultimately that is an important player who may not be available for a period of time.”
Saracens picked up a losing bonus point in their quest to escape relegation and McCall saw no shame in losing at Sandy Park.
“We have nine games after the Six Nations and I know we are capable of going on a good run then,” he said.
“We have to pick up what we can now and a point at Exeter isn’t a complete disaster. The players stuck in there right until the end.
“We had a lot of time close to their goal line and we just weren’t good enough to capitalise.
“Some of it was magnificent defence from Exeter, but if you come away from home you need to take advantage of those chances.”