Mako Vunipola, pictured here in training in March 2017, made his first appearance for Saracens for 15 weeks after recovering from knee surgery, his third major operation in 10 months
London (AFP) - Newcastle ended Exeter’s seven-match unbeaten Premiership run on Sunday as revitalised Saracens closed the gap at the top of the table with a convincing win against Wasps.
The Falcons led 25-3 at half-time through tries from Sinoti Sinoti, Vereniki Goneva and Kyle Cooper, before the reigning champions roared back with three of their own in the second period through Sam Simmonds, Olly Woodburn and Toby Salmon.
But Gareth Steenson could only convert one, while Joel Hodgson kicked two plus a last-minute penalty to deny the visitors even a losing bonus point in a 28-20 win.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter said the defeat had given his side a “kick up the backside.”
“I’m not going to make too big a deal of it,” Baxter said. “But our performance was simply not good enough and it’s the kick up the backside we needed.
“There were too many individual moments where we didn’t do the business and that’s not to take anything away from Newcastle – the result is a great credit to them.”
After 13 rounds of matches in the Premiership, Exeter are five points clear of second-placed Saracens, who ended a seven-match losing streak in all competitions last month.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall hailed the “extraordinary” comeback made by Billy Vunipola as Saracens swept aside Wasps 38-15 at the Ricoh Arena.
Vunipola was a force throughout the 69 minutes he was on the pitch with his ball-carrying contributing to some of the European champions’ best moments in a bonus-point win.
The 25-year-old number eight was making his first appearance for 15 weeks after recovering from knee surgery, his third major operation in 10 months.
In a further Six Nations boost for England, Maro Itoje returned from a month out with a fractured jaw and, while less conspicuous than the marauding Vunipola, he came through unscathed.
“Having Billy back makes a difference to any team,” McCall said. “It’s extraordinary in some respects to play as well as he did, given that he hasn’t played for four months.”