Northampton Saints boost play-off hopes with big victory at Exeter
Saints produced a powerful display as they became the first side to win at Exeter in the Premiership this season.
Jim Mallinder’s men, who had lost five of their previous seven games, claimed a 30-19 win to win at Sandy Park for the second successive and move up to fourth in the table.
Tries from Ken Pisi, Soane Tonga’uiha and GJ van Velze did the business as the Saints simply proved too strong for their hosts, starting 2013 in style.
And the performance was made even more impressive by the fact they lost skipper Dylan Hartley to a sin-binning just before the break.
Stephen Myler put the gloss on the showing with a fine kicking display, which saw him land six of his seven attempts at goal, the other hitting the post.
The Chiefs could only reply through a second-half Sireli Naqelevuki score, nine points from the boot of Gareth Steenson and three from Ignacio Mieres.
But this was all about Saints as they defied a poor run of recent form to get back to winning ways and enhance the belief ahead of a return to Heineken Cup action next weekend.
Exeter had started the game with plenty of spark but that was to fade as the game wore on, with Northampton grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck after going 3-0 down through Steenson’s 13th-minute kick.
Slack tackling from Luke Arscott allowed Ben Foden to offload to Ken Pisi, who became the first Northampton back to score a try since Tom May dotted down at Sale on November 30.
Myler easily added the extras and the away side had their tails up, almost scoring again, but for Jamie Elliott to miss out on gathering the impressive Foden’s pass.
Saints remained on the front foot, though, as their good start to the game continued and Myler’s sweetly struck penalty put them 10-3 12 minutes before the break.
The home crowd, and team, were rattled as Northampton continued to turn the screw.
Myler, whose last-minute kick hit the woodwork in Saints’ agonising 17-16 defeat to Saracens six days earlier, hit the post as Exeter were given a reprieve.
But they weren’t to get away with it a second time as Doran-Jones won a penalty in the scrum and Saints’ No.10 made it 13-3.
With three minutes to go until the break, the men in light blue were in control, but yellow peril struck as Hartley was sin-binned for not rolling away.
It was to prove costly as Steenson slotted the resulting penalty to bring the Chiefs back to within seven points at the break and landed another kick two minutes into the second half.
Saints were still a man light, with Hartley still in the bin, when Myler restored their seven-point advantage with another good kick, but the Chiefs came again.
A try looked on until Greg Garner blew his whistle for a penalty in front of the posts, which Steenson slotted.
As the kick flew over, Hartley emerged from the Sandy Park shadows to return from the sin bin and Saints were given the shot in the arm they needed.
The cavalry, in the form of Samu Manoa and Tom Wood, were also called for and Saints turned on the power, surging over the line through Tongan titan Tonga’uiha.
Myler again added the gloss to extend the lead to 23-13 and this was more like the Northampton side of old, cranking up the heat up front and looking intelligent in the backs.
But Exeter weren’t done and they bit back as replacement centre Naqelevuki barrelled over the line, with the Saints defence crumbling
Mieres added the extras and the Chiefs had fought back to within four points. Saints so desperate not to be denied at the last again.
As they had done all afternoon, Northampton refused to buckle and another big push from the forwards saw van Velze dot down, with the superb Myler again adding the extras.
It was to be a huge final four minutes for the away side and they held out to record a wonderful victory in the west country.
Exeter: Arscott; Camacho, Whitten, Dollman (Naqelevuki 46), Jess; Steenson (Mieres 62), Thomas (Barrett 54); Moon (Rimmer 60), Clark
(Yeandle 77), Tui (Mitchell 60); Mumm, Hanks (Hayes 51); Johnson, White (Muldowney 57), Baxter.
Saints: Foden; K Pisi (Burrell 60), G Pisi, Waldouck, Elliott; Myler, Dickson; Tonga’uiha (A Waller 60), Hartley, Doran-Jones; Lawes (Manoa
55), Sorenson; Clark (Wood 55), Dowson, van Velze. Replacements: Haywood, Mercey, Roberts, Lamb.
Referee: Greg Garner
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