Tom Vickers’ Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints ratings and review

STAR MAN - Kahn Fotuali'i impressed in Saints' win at Exeter (Picture: Linda Dawson)

STAR MAN - Kahn Fotuali'i impressed in Saints' win at Exeter (Picture: Linda Dawson)

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Saints have enjoyed some exceptional wins this season - and the one they achieved at Exeter on Saturday night was up there with the best of them.

Saracens at home in the Premiership, Leinster away in the Heineken Cup; those were memorable occasions.

And, this weekend, Saints wrote another impressive chapter in what has been a thrilling season so far.

Jim Mallinder’s men showed immense belief to recover from 16-10 down, scoring late on through Samoan centre George Pisi to secure a 17-16 success.

It wasn’t a totally new experience, with hints of the win at Wasps in December present, with Stephen Myler again slotting a critical last-gasp conversion.

Saints have eked out wins on a regular basis during this campaign, showing the confidence and composure of a champion team.

But this was of another level to most of the other 19 victories this season.

Why? Because of the level of adversity that stood in Saints’ way.

They were shorn of eight international stars, while Exeter were without just one: England wing Jack Nowell.

They had injury issues during the game, with chief lineout caller and authoritative lock Christian Day limping off during the first half.

There was a swirling wind to contend with, which, as locals admitted before the game, Exeter are more than acclimatised to.

And then there was a home side baying for the blood of a team who could go top of the table with a win.

Saints stood up to it all, soaked up the punches and proved they don’t have a glass jaw this season.

They have learned how to win tight games. Dare it be said - they’ve taken a leaf out of Leicester’s book.

They now have the class and coolness to prevail in the stickiest of situations.

Even when things started to unravel during the second half, with GJ van Velze, who took over lineout calling duties from Day, in the bin, Saints refused to buckle.

They could have given Exeter another three points that would have put the home side out of sight. They didn’t.

Instead, they patiently gained ground and turned on the power up front to win a string of scrum penalties close to the Chiefs line.

That gave Pisi the platform to pounce for what proved to be a telling score, with Myler easily adding the extras.

And, even when the ball was lost from the restart and Exeter mounted one final surge, Saints kept their guard up and saw the game out.

It wasn’t the prettiest of wins. It was never going to be. But it’s certainly one of the most satisfying successes on a long list of them so far this season.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

Blotted his copybook slightly with a poor pass that gave Exeter the chance to score, but was otherwise impressive and grabbed another crucial try... 7

KEN PISI

Another tough game for the wingers, who did their best to get involved. Tough for the Samoan, with the clash dominated by the forwards... 6

GEORGE PISI

Popped up to help Saints secure the points and put in a really innovative performance that was crucial in breaking down the Exeter defence... 8

DOM WALDOUCK

Solid enough and even got involved in a scrum while van Velze was in the bin, impressing his team-mates by helping to win a penalty... 7

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Like Pisi, did his best to get involved and did well to relieve pressure on a couple of occasions. One or two slips, but that was to be expected on a tricky evening... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Kept his nerve to seal the win with a late conversion and managed the game well late on to put his team in the right positions... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I - CHRON STAR MAN

This man’s touch of class is so crucial during the Six Nations period. The Samoan kept Saints on the front foot with accurate passing and some nice breaks... 8

ALEX WALLER

Plenty of power from the loosehead, who made a couple of breaks and did the business in the scrum... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

Really tough ask for the young hooker in the lineout, with the wind wreaking havoc and Saints losing main caller Day to injury, but performed well... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Guilty of giving away a cheap penalty in the first half for a high tackle, but otherwise did most things right before being replaced... 6

SAMU MANOA

Picked up his ninth try of the season by keeping his balance brilliantly in the corner, and it was another huge showing from the big American forward... 8

CHRISTIAN DAY

Was having a really positive influence on the game before being forced off with an injury that hampered Saints slightly... 7

CALUM CLARK

Impassioned performance from the flanker, whose outpouring of emotion showed how much this win meant to Saints. Adapted well after the loss of Day... 7

PHIL DOWSON

The skipper led the charge with some big carries and was impressive in defence as he steered his side to victory... 8

SAM DICKINSON

Made some great breaks during the first half and was unlucky not to get himself on the scoresheet. Had a big influence on proceedings... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GJ VAN VELZE (for Day 32)

Yellow carded for obstruction, but did his best to make amends and deserves credit for taking responsibility in the lineout... 6

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 53)

Added to the Saints scrum and played his part in the late forward push that gave Pisi the chance to dot down... 7