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'One or two of the players have already apologised to their team-mates'

By PA

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Saracens boss Mark McCall was left to reflect on “highly costly” and “frustrating” discipline lapses after his team suffered an 18-15 Gallagher Premiership defeat against fierce rivals Exeter.

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Saracens were penalised on four separate occasions by referee Luke Pearce for dissent, with England international Billy Vunipola guilty on two quickfire occasions that saw Saracens marched back 20 metres following a penalty award.

“We were let down today by inaccuracy and ill-discipline,” Saracens rugby director McCall said. “We were marched back three times, which is not good enough.

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“It’s not just frustrating, it’s highly costly.

“It cost us points and it cost us decisions later because you are on the wrong side of the referee and things you deserve you don’t get.

“Maro (Itoje) was over the ball a couple of times on the halfway line and we got nothing, which is probably because of how we had behaved earlier.

“I can’t (put my finger on it). One or two of the players, which I won’t name, have already apologised to their team-mates afterwards because they recognise that it’s not what we need.”

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While the eagerly-awaited contest fell below expectations in terms of its overall quality, Exeter took charge at key moments to inflict only a second Premiership defeat this season on Saracens.

Wing Tom O’Flaherty and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie scored tries for Exeter as they remained firmly in play-off contention, with fly-half Joe Simmonds kicking two penalties and a conversion.

Centre Alex Lozowski supplied all of Saracens’ points through five penalties, but a losing bonus point was all his team collected.

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McCall added: “Physically, we were great. Our collision work in defence was outstanding.

“Our defensive set towards the end of the game was special, but we want to be more than a physical team, and we didn’t use the ball well enough, especially in the first half.”

The game had been billed in some quarters as a grudge match, with Saracens making a first trip to Devon since returning to English rugby’s top flight after being relegated last year and fined more than £5million for persistent salary cap breaches.

Exeter lost the 2018 and 2019 Premiership finals to Saracens at Twickenham, and they did not hold back in subsequent criticism of their fierce rivals as the full salary-cap saga unfolded.

It raised the ante for a sold-out showdown, but it was more workmanlike than spectacular throughout the 80 minutes as Exeter prevailed.

Asked about Saracens’ indiscipline, Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said: “I wasn’t listening to the referee’s comments, but any opposition frustration during the game normally comes from feeling under pressure.

“They don’t need to complain if things are going their way. That’s what you’ve got to do – create a pressure game of rugby.

“If you do, you give yourself a chance to come out on the right side of things.”

Reflecting on the victory, Baxter added: “It felt like a proper Premiership game of rugby.

“Both teams went hammer and tongs and were probably a little bit afraid to lose it, but were both desperate to win.

“I am just proud of the guys and that little bit of fight they had in everything they did. That ultimately made the difference.

“It was a step up in everything from us. We made plenty of errors, as did Saracens, but we had the determination to bounce back from disappointment and keep working hard.

“I know a lot of people want to drive the Exeter versus Saracens thing, but for me it was important to play well against one of the teams who are going to be in or around the Premiership top-four all the season.

“We’ve got to show we can knock those guys over.”

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