Tom Vickers’ Exeter v Saints view and player ratings

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE - GJ van Velze was the man of the match against Exeter (Picture: Linda Dawson)
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE - GJ van Velze was the man of the match against Exeter (Picture: Linda Dawson)

Sky Sports’ Rugby Club did Saints a massive favour ahead of their win at Exeter on Saturday.

What did they do? They doubted the credentials of Jim Mallinder’s men, highlighting a team who were struggling to compete with the best.

They talked about how Northampton had lost their past nine games against the Premiership top three, Leicester, Saracens and Harlequins.

They picked out the fears of fans that the team wasn’t moving forward and packaged them neatly into a video labelled ‘Saints fans losing faith?’, now available to view on the Sky Sports website.

Pundits Stuart Barnes, Dewi Morris and Ieuan Evans, whose job it is to provoke debate, then made clear their doubts about Saints’ title credentials after a tough couple of weeks for the club.

But every negative word added a dollop of determination to the Northampton squad ahead of the trip to Sandy Park.

No team had won there in the league this season.

Only French powerhouses Clermont Auvergne had claimed victory at the ground, when they visited in the Heineken Cup.

The script was written. Saints would lose and slip to seventh in the table.

The crisis continues could have been the take on it.

But the more Jim Mallinder’s men are written off, the better they seem to play.

The determination to do something at Exeter was palpable, just as it was at Ravenhill, where Saints won 10-9 against Ulster eight days after being beaten 25-6 by the Irish side at Franklin’s Gardens.

Injured lock Christian Day summed up the feeling in the Saints camp before the game

He said: “Sky Sports negative comments against The Saints are pretty disappointing. Just fuelling the fire... One man’s negative will be our positive.

“Exeter. Great place, great club, great coach. No surprise they are near the top once again. We won against the odds last year. Why not us?”

After the 30-19 win the phrase ‘Why not us?’ was used by numerous members of the Saints squad to emphasise the siege mentality that had been fostered by the recent criticism.

With their backs against the wall, Northampton had come out fighting once again.

And though Barnes merely suggested they were ‘the best of the rest’ – remind us how two of the best, Saracens and Harlequins, did at Sandy Park this season, Stuart? – Saints had made their point.

Tom’s player ratings


The England full-back showed signs of returning to his best form in a superb showing. Set up the first try for Ken Pisi with a surging run, giving the Exeter defence the slip... 8


Got his third Premiership try since joining Saints and was a threat. Combined well with Foden and continues to improve... 7


Made some nice offloads and added a touch of class to the midfield. Combined well with Dom Waldouck in a mixture of style and steel... 7


His best performance in a Saints shirt since the Premiership opening-day victory at Gloucester. Was secure throughout and provided a platform for centre partner George Pisi to build on... 8


Another sound display from the youngster, who has grown into a very effective and reliable player for his team this season... 7


This man just loves a tee kick. The fly-half landed six out of seven, with the other hitting the post, but also controlled the game well with ball in hand... 8


An assured performance from the scrum-half, who relished the battle with opposite number Haydn Thomas, before the Exeter man was replaced... 7


As Saints got back to their best, so did their Tongan titan. The prop deserved his try and played a huge part in a good forward effort... 8


The only blemish on the skipper’s performance was a sin-binning, but even that may have been harsh and he led the team well with a good display... 7


One of his best games in a Saints shirt as he dominated in the scrum and made some great tackles, including one to stop Exeter scoring during the first half... 8


Did well in the lineout and smashed Exeter back with some good tackling. This display will have pleased the Saints and England coaches hugely... 7


Brought into the team as Samu Manoa was given the chance to rest and didn’t let Saints down as he showed his experience in the lineout and in the loose... 7


Was ferocious at the breakdown and really helped his side establish themselves in the game after Exeter had dominated during the first 15 minutes... 8


Another effective showing from the back row, who has 100 per cent lineout success this season after taking over from sin-binned Dylan Hartley to throw the ball in successfully on one occasion... 7


The South African was superb throughout, stepping up for physical battle and scoring another crucial try to add to the one he got in the win at Ulster... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)


What a player to bring off the bench! The American added power to the Saints pack after being introduced 15 minutes into the second half... 7


Another great man to bring on and the England star was a huge part in the go-forward of his side’s scrum as they crushed Exeter during the final 25 minutes of the game... 7