Farrell stars as Saracens hammer Exeter in Premiership

Owen Farrell took centre stage as Saracens responded to their surprise defeat by London Irish with a 35-3 thrashing of bitter rivals Exeter in the English Premiership on Saturday.

Despite driving rain and fierce winds at their north London base, Saracens inflicted Exeter's largest league defeat for over two years.

England mainstay Farrell provided one of the highlights of the match when his no-look, reverse pass, sent in Alex Lewington for one of Saracens' five tries as they went 10 points clear at the top of the table.

Farrell has been criticised for a lack of ambition with ball in hand at Test level but this performance was a reminder of his skills to new England coach Steve Borthwick.

The former England captain took charge after Eddie Jones was sacked following England's worst year since 2008, with the veteran Australian coach presiding over six losses from 12 games.

He was replaced by Borthwick, who had been his assistant before guiding Leicester to last season's Premiership title.

Borthwick's first game as England boss will be the Six Nations opener at home to Scotland on February 4.

Before then, in a 2023 that culminates with the World Cup in France, he must decide whether to retain Marcus Smith at fly-half, as Jones did for his swansong 27-13 defeat by world champions South Africa, or move Farrell from inside centre to stand-off instead.

- 'Unbelievable talent' -

Saracens coach Joe Shaw was in no doubt of the 31-year-old Farrell's enduring qualities, saying: "If you know anything about rugby you realise what an unbelievable and special talent we have had for this generation.

"He has just turned 31, he has got (over) 100 caps for England, been on three (British and Irish) Lions tours, won everything domestically and captained his country. He is absolutely fantastic."

Exeter believe they were unfairly deprived of three possible English top-flight titles as a result of losing a trio of finals to Saracens before the London club were effectively relegated after being hit with a huge 105-point penalty in the 2019/20 season for salary cap breaches

Saracens, however, were not stripped of any silverware by English rugby chiefs.

Exeter had no complaints on Saturday as an under-strength side weakened by injury and illness were left sixth in the table, with coach Ali Hepher saying: "You have to give Saracens credit for their performance."

Bath boss Johann van Graan lauded captain Ben Spencer's "absolutely brilliant" display in a come from behind 24-16 win at home to Newcastle.

"Ben was really good," said van Graan. "It was his best performance of the season."

Saturday's other Premiership match saw two Argentina stars play key roles as Gloucester edged London Irish 8-6.

Pumas lock Matias Alemanno scored the game's lone try but the Cherry and Whites were still 6-5 behind heading into the last minute when fly-half Santiago Carreras landed a 45-metre penalty.

"Santi (Carreras) is a world class player and he delivered under pressure," said Gloucester coach George Skivington. "He made a hash of the conversion attempt but by then kicking the match-winner he went from zero to hero."