Tom Vickers’ Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints view and player ratings

RALLYING THE TROOPS - Phil Dowson and his Saints team-mates know they still have a lot of play for this season, following Sunday's LV= Cup Final defeat to Exeter Chiefs (Picture: Linda Dawson)
RALLYING THE TROOPS - Phil Dowson and his Saints team-mates know they still have a lot of play for this season, following Sunday's LV= Cup Final defeat to Exeter Chiefs (Picture: Linda Dawson)
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After most supporters had exited Sandy Park, Rob Baxter made his way up the steps of the main stand.

The Exeter Chiefs boss, can of Heineken in hand, was greeted with a hero’s welcome by friends and family.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-171745006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-171745006

It was an interesting sight, as just five weeks earlier, Saints boss Jim Mallinder was the man receiving the plaudits in the same corner of the west country ground.

Mallinder had masterminded a late Aviva Premiership success in atrocious conditions, keeping an impressive run going with the international players away.

The men who remained at the club kept their cool and composure in the face of a blue tide of Chiefs defence, eventually breaking through to score a third, match-winning try late on.

This time, though, there was to be no repeat.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160133006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160133006

Instead, Exeter stood firm, despite Samu Manoa scoring in the same corner as he had in the meeting last month.

That proved to be too little, too late for Saints, who, on this occasion, gave themselves too much to do.

They had been made to pay for some poor handling and a failure to do the basics right as the Chiefs gave them a taste of their own medicine.

It was hard to swallow and although every team can have an off day - heck, it’s almost expected when you’ve won 13 games on the bounce - Saints may just be left feeling they didn’t do themselves justice.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160102006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160102006

It was a fourth final defeat in as many years, but of those this was the one they had the most momentum and expectation going into.

Exeter had home advantage, and it did make a difference as they lifted their levels beyond the norm, but a Saints team in top form would have secured the silverware.

The result was what happens when the team who are given the favourites tag play below their capabilities against a plucky underdog playing to their full potential.

It was to be another tough experience as the trophy was handed out and Saints were again forced to watch on as a team danced on their dreams.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160112006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160112006

But though the performance wasn’t the best and the LV= Cup won’t be heading back to Northampton, a little perspective must be brought to the occasion.

It was a great triumph for Exeter, the greatest in their 143-year history, but for Saints it was not the be all and end all.

They are still fighting on two fronts - with key men now back following the conclusion of the Six Nations - and one of those is the one they really want, the Aviva Premiership.

Of course they wanted the LV= Cup, too.

It just so happens they met a side who wanted it more than anything they have ever wanted before.

Now it’s time to refocus in pursuit of the one Saints have a similar feeling about.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160052006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160052006

The Amlin Challenge Cup is a nice side dish, but make no mistake, a first league crown is what Mallinder and his men crave the most.

This loss has reaffirmed the importance of home advantage, giving them an extra push to ensure that play-off semi-final is booked at the Gardens as soon as possible.

If Saints can do that, and turn up on the big occasions in May, it will be Mallinder who is afforded the biggest hero’s welcome of them all.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Usually the man for the big occasion, but never really got into the game. Was lucky to see Ken Pisi stop Luke Arscott after the Exeter man slipped past him too easily... 6

KEN PISI

Made that great saving tackle on Arscott to keep Saints in the game, but couldn’t enjoy as much success at the other end as Exeter shut the wide channels down ... 7

GEORGE PISI

His late try gave Saints the win at Sandy Park last month, and he gave everything to try to salvage something here, without reward... 7

JAMES WILSON

Started at 12 for the first time this season and there was no shortage of effort as he made some big hits in the midfield, but not much clicked in attack... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Tried to make an impact with a couple of forward charges, but was given no breathing space by the Chiefs, who forced him to make a couple of handling errors... 6

GLENN DICKSON

Came in at the last minute for Stephen Myler, who had a hamstring injury, and didn’t let the team down. Kicked one from two, made metres in attack and defended well... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Admitted he hadn’t controlled the game as he would have liked, but it wasn’t a poor performance and the Samoan still did some very good work... 7

ALEX WALLER

Tried to push his team on, but showed his frustration after knocking on during a second-half charge... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD

The young hooker has been superb since club captain Dylan Hartley has been away and he didn’t do too much wrong here... 6

SALESI MA’AFU

Usually dominates in the scrum and didn’t do badly here, but the Chiefs stood up to the big Australian... 6

SAMU MANOA - CHRON STAR MAN

Scored his 10th try of the season and once again was involved in most of the good things his team did... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

The experienced campaigner is usually marshaling a winning pack effort, but he couldn’t steer them to victory on this occasion... 6

CALUM CLARK

Typically committed performance and some good work at the breakdown. Was unfortunate to be forced off after just 50 minutes with an injury... 6

PHIL DOWSON

The skipper was up for this, but his attempts to gain ground for his side were hampered by Exeter’s impressive linespeed... 6

GJ VAN VELZE

Continually tried to knock the Exeter door down with some committed surges, but the Chiefs were too tough a nut to crack... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

TOM MERCEY (for Ma’afu 49)

Came on in tough circumstances, with Saints chasing the game, and was unable to help turn the tide... 6

BEN NUTLEY (for Clark 50)

Added some freshness to the back row effort and made some carries, but there was little ground made against an Exeter brick wall... 6

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160042006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-140316-160042006