Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter insisted the opportunity to thwart reigning European champions Saracens empowered his side after the Chiefs claimed victory in their top-of-the-table Premiership clash.
The hosts led 14-12 at the break as 21-year-old Joe Simmonds, who was making his first top-flight start, kicked three penalties and Phil Dollman touched down, while Ben Earl and Schalk Brits crossed the line for Saracens.
A fourth penalty for Simmonds and a penalty try in the second period sealed victory for defending champions Exeter, who moved seven points clear of second-placed Wasps and eight ahead of Saracens.
“They want to do well and they want to perform well,” said Baxter. “It shows you that sometimes it’s the biggest challenges that bring out the most honest performances in you and that’s what it felt like today.
“I thought the challenge of Saracens coming here really brought the best out of us and we thrived on the pressure.”
Saracens were missing a total of 18 players through injury and international commitments before kick-off, while skipper Brad Barritt and Chris Wyles were replaced early in the second period to lessen their pool of established stars further.
“We put a lot of effort into the game,” said director of rugby Mark McCall. “I’m much more pleased with the performance we put in this week than last week [28-20 loss to Leicester].
“We were lacking a bit of composure at the crucial time, a bit frantic, but that’s what you get with some of the inexperience that we ended up having on the field.”
Simmonds, the younger brother of England forward Sam, proved a revelation at No10, was faultless from the tee and provided the pass for Dollman to cross the line for his first try since the Premiership final in May.