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Dublin: -2 °C Saturday 24 February, 2018
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Irish duo help Exeter into Prem final as Ryan returns to Top 14 with Agen

Marty Moore was part of a Wasps squad that also reached the English league decider.

EXETER CHIEFS SECURED their place in the Aviva Premiership final for the second consecutive season in dramatic fashion, scoring a last-gasp maul try to beat reigning champions Saracens 18-16 in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Exeter Chiefs v Saracens - Aviva Premiership - Semi Final - Sandy Park Steenson was at out-half for the Chiefs. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Irishman Gareth Steenson was at out-half once again for the Chiefs and kicked two penalties and a conversion as he maturely steered the ship for Rob Baxter’s impressive side.

33-year-old Steenson – who first joined the Chiefs when they were in the Championship – has never won an Ireland cap or been called up to the national squad, despite years of consistent quality for Exeter in England.

The IRFU’s policy of favouring homegrown players has counted against his claims, but the former Ulster out-half is a legend at in Exeter and a Premiership title would be fine reward for his loyal service.

Steenson Kick Steenson slots a conversion against Sarries.

Outside centre Ian Whitten, another former Ulster man, made his 100th league appearance for the club in the victory over Saracens, whose boss is ex-Ulster head coach Mark McCall.

Whitten, who won two Ireland caps in 2009, scoring two tries against the US and Canada, joined the Premiership club in 2012 and has been part of the rise that has continued in recent years under Baxter.

The 29-year-old made several thumping hits and strong carries as Exeter overcame Saracens and he is likely to be important once again in this weekend’s final against Wasps.

Whitten Hit Whitten smashes Saracens' Mike Ellery.

Exeter were denied in last year’s final by Saracens, but they are likely to have much of the neutral support as they look to claim their first-ever Premiership title at Twickenham on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Irish-qualified hooker George McGuigan came off the bench for his 20th Premiership appearance of the campaign as Matt O’Connor’s Leicester were beaten 21-20 by Wasps in the other semi-final on Saturday.

The 24-year-old, who came through the Exiles system, played for England Saxons last summer but the fixtures were not against South Africa’s nominated second team, so those games do not mean McGuigan is ‘captured’ by England.

Geordan Murphy is part of the coaching team at Leicester and will hope the club can be among the Premiership contenders next season.

Wasps v Connacht Rugby - European Champions Cup - Pool Two - Ricoh Arena Moore and Wasps are into the Prem final. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Part of the winning Wasps squad was tighthead prop Marty Moore, who played just over 25 minutes off the bench for Dai Young’s men on his 18th league appearance of the season.

The 26-year-old is another Irishman abroad on the outside of the national squad, although he did win 10 caps under Joe Schmidt while playing for Leinster. Moore joined Wasps on a three-year deal last summer and has been part of the club’s strong season.

He will now hope to play an important role in the final against Exeter as Wasps look for their first title since 2008.

Over in France, former Munster prop Dave Ryan helped Agen to bounce straight back into the Top 14 after one season in France’s second tier Pro D2.

The tighthead came off the bench in Agen’s 41-20 promotion play-off final win over Montauban yesterday, making his 28th league appearance in a season that has included 16 starts in the number three shirt.

Ryan Ryan makes a carry for Agen.

The 31-year-old, who first played rugby with Highfield RFC, came through the academy system at Munster and played 10 times for the province, before a move to Italian side Lazio.

Ryan worked his way up into Zebre’s Pro12 squad and spent two seasons with them before a move back to Ireland with Ulster. However, it was a frustrating time with the northern province and the Cork man headed for France in 2015.

Agen were relegated in his first season with the club but Ryan has now helped them to go straight back up to the Top 14, which means the Irishman will also be playing in the 2017/18 Challenge Cup.

Munster-bound scrum-half James Hart was used off the bench in Racing 92′s win away to Montpellier in the barrages phase of France’s top tier.

James Hart Hart has been part of Racing's squad regularly this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 25-year-old played the closing minutes of a 22-13 victory that means Racing will face Clermont in the Top 14 semi-finals this weekend. Ex-Clontarf halfback Hart has made 17 league appearances this season, before his return to Ireland to join Munster.

Assistant coach Ronan O’Gara will be hoping Racing can pull off another play-off win when they meet Clermont in Marseille on Saturday.

In the Pro12, Irish lock Tadhg Beirne was outstanding once again for the Scarlets as they stunned Leinster in the semi-finals and secured a place in this weekend’s final against Munster at the Aviva Stadium.

24-year-old Beirne’s move to Wales has been a major success and he made a big impact on his 12th start of the Pro12 season, playing through a rib injury against his native province.

Beirne Beirne beats Robbie Henshaw's tackle attempt.

The Kildare man will be one of many threats to Rassie Erasmus’ Munster in this Saturday’s final in Dublin.

On Wednesday of last week, former Ireland and Ulster loosehead Tom Court was a second-half replacement as London Irish won 29-18 in the first leg of their Championship promotion play-off final against Yorkshire Carnegie.

Irish-qualified centre Fergus Mulchrone was in the Exiles’ 12 shirt, scoring a second-half try, and the club is expected to confirm their return to the Premiership on Wednesday when they host the second leg of the promotion final.

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