Slade suffers final heartbreak
By Mark Stevens
It was over an hour since the final whistle had blown, but the pain of another Twickenham defeat remained as raw as ever for Exeter Chiefs star Henry Slade.
Having given everything, not just on the day against eventual champions Saracens, but throughout the course of another incredible season for the Devonians, this was arguably the toughest loss to take for the Plymouth-born playmaker.
Despite finishing top of the Gallagher Premiership for a second successive season and cruising through their semi-final against Northampton Saints last week, Rob Baxter's side were beaten by the European champions 37-34 in what was an epic final at Rugby HQ.
At one stage, after Slade himself had scored a fourth try for the Chiefs, the Devon side held an 11-point lead with a little over 20 minutes remaining. However, the reigning European champions rallied during that final quarter, squeezing the life out of their rivals to secure a remarkable double for them,
In a brutally honest post-game interview, Slade said: "This is just the worst I have ever felt after a game. I said after lat year, I never want to feel that bad again, but I think this is even worse. I think it's just gutting because we've been so dominant for the entire season. But that's how the league works, innit?
"Play-offs, semi-final... you can win the league by however many points we did and still not win the thing. That's how it is."
Chiefs made the perfect start with a try inside the opening 30 seconds from Nic White, but Slade's yellow card for a deliberate knock-on allowed Saracens to make an immediate response. Jamie George and Ben Spencer both crossed for Sarries who were then a man down themselves when Maro Itojo was sent to the sin bin.
The Chiefs capitalised by scoring twice through Dave Ewers and Jonny Hill, which saw the Chiefs lead 22-16 at the interval.
The start of the second half was a far more cagey affair and Chiefs looked on course for a famous win when Slade crossed, but straight from the restart, Saracens won back possession and Liam Williams touched down after gathering Owen Farrell's cross-field kick.
With the momentum now with them, Sean Maitland and George both crossed to leave Chiefs with too much to do, although they did score a late try themselves through Sam Hill, which was too little too late as the whistle went following Joe Simmonds' successful conversion.
As well as the hurt of another Twickenham defeat, the Chiefs also suffered a huge blow some ten minutes from time when Jack Nowell, arguably their best player on the day, suffered a nasty-looking ankle injury. Play was halted immediately with the England and British Lions ace clearly in some pain, but he was able to walk off the pitch, albeit in some discomfort.
The fear is that the injury could rule the Cornishman out of this summer's World Cup, which takes place in Japan from September 20 to November 2.
“It is a little early to say,” Exeter's director of rugby Rob Baxter said afterwards. “I haven’t been able to catch up with him or the medics who are dealing with him. I would imagine it will be the usual story – until he has a scan (we won’t know.)
“It looked like his ankle and he has had a couple of ankle issues this season. Until he has had a scan it is going to be hard to thoroughly assess it. He was outstanding today wasn’t he? He was very difficult to put on the floor, very strong, quick and elusive.”