Northampton Saints 31 Exeter Chiefs 28: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints celebrated a superb success against Exeter (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Saints celebrated a superb success against Exeter (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

There may be myriad new players and plenty of new coaches, but this was like one of those old school Friday nights at Franklin's Gardens.

After a few years saturated with struggle, Saints summoned up the ghosts of Christmas past to produce a performance that the title-winning crop of 2013/14 would have been proud of.

Let's get it right - they did it in a very different manner to how the double-winning team so often prevailed.

A strong set piece was the cornerstone of the success of four years ago, with the backs able to build from the scrum and lineout.

But with the scrum far from productive on this occasion, the backs had to elevate themselves to new levels of ruthlessness.

And they certainly did that, with Piers Francis, Dan Biggar, Fraser Dingwall and Cobus Reinach all so clinical when the chances came their way.

Piers Francis got things up and running for Saints

Piers Francis got things up and running for Saints

That is not to say the forwards did not play their part. They certainly did.

They managed to disrupt Exeter in the lineout on numerous occasions, preventing clean catches and stopping several drives towards the home line.

But it was in open play where Saints' big men really thrived, with their defence something to be really proud of.

Alan Dickens is an understated figure at Franklin's Gardens, even after his stint as interim boss last season, but the work he continues to do deserves real credit.

Piers Francis took the plaudits after scoring Saints' first try

Piers Francis took the plaudits after scoring Saints' first try

He has always known how to build a formidable defence - and he wasn't bad when he was in charge of the attack, either.

The determination that he, the other coaches and the fervour of the Franklin's Gardens faithful inspired was palpable.

There was so much drive in the contact area and so much ability with ball in hand.

In fact, if Saints had even got anywhere near to parity at the scrum, Exeter would have been out of the game well before their hosts went 10 points up with 17 minutes remaining.

Fraser Dingwall was a super-sub for Saints

Fraser Dingwall was a super-sub for Saints

The table-toppers looked set to turn the tables on Saints when they recovered from 14-0 and 21-14 down to level on two occasions.

But such is the belief that boss Chris Boyd is starting to instil in his players, they simply refused to be deterred.

Strong minds inspired strong bodies, and the black, green and gold wall that greeted the Chiefs on so many occasions was a joy to watch.

Saints were never behind in the game.

And they displayed the kind of resilience that top teams possess.

Fans are right to feel that though their side are only in their infancy when it comes to getting back to where they belong, things are certainly moving in the right direction under Boyd.

Cobus Reinach scored another stunning intercept try

Cobus Reinach scored another stunning intercept try

It always felt likely that Saints would lose games they expect to win, and win games they expected to lose.

And so it proved yet again as the roller-coaster nature of this exciting new era continued.

It will take time for these displays to become commonplace as Boyd continues to shape his squad mentally and physically.

And the fruits of his labours will not truly be known for a couple more years yet.

But what a start he has made.

Saints have placed big responsibility on the young shoulders of players such as Lewis Ludlam and Fraser Dingwall.

And they have delivered.

This win against Exeter was a statement success not only for the squad but specifically for those young guns.

They are here, and they're here to stay.

They will have watched on from the stands as Saints swept aside big sides on a regular basis a few years ago.

They will now look to produce more of the same in the years to come.

And if they can, these big Friday nights in front of sizeable crowds under the Franklin's Gardens lights will become the norm once again.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Always provided plenty of cut and thrust in attack, making metres for his team and using his quick feet to keep Exeter on their toes... 7

TOM COLLINS

Made the eye-catching break that started it all off for Saints, showing his incredible speed as he eluded Exeter defenders to help Piers Francis to open the scoring... 7

PIERS FRANCIS

Was only on the field for six minutes, having suffered a dislocated shoulder, but prior to that, he scored the try that got the Gardens to its feet

LUTHER BURRELL

Missed a couple of tackles but has been a key figure in Saints' improvement during the past two matches, putting his body on the line with big hits and making important carries... 7

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Didn't lack desire as he tried to take the fight to Exeter but Saints couldn't quite get him into the kind of space in which he can do real damage... 6

DAN BIGGAR

Racked up 20 points in the win at Worcester a week earlier and he notched 16 on this occasion, scoring his first Saints try in a superb display... 9

COBUS REINACH

This man is so good right now, with his speed making him simply unstoppable when he gets clear ground in front of him. Two intercept tries in as many weeks for the scrum-half... 9

ALEX WALLER

Not an easy night for the Saints skipper as Exeter took Saints on in the scrum and eventually forced him into the sin bin... 5

REECE MARSHALL

Came in at late notice to replace Dylan Hartley and added real energy to his team, even returning for a second stint when James Fish picked up a blood injury... 7

PAUL HILL

Did try to showcase his ability in open play but the Saints scrum did not find favour with referee Ian Tempest... 6

DAVID RIBBANS

Got through a huge amount of work, making 14 tackles and also carrying with real determination... 8

COURTNEY LAWES

Displayed all of his class here, disrupting Exeter at lineout time, powering into tackles and carrying hard into traffic... 8

JAMIE GIBSON

Was relentless in his attempts to put a spanner in the Exeter works as he tried every trick to thwart the table-toppers... 7

LEWIS LUDLAM

Was a thorn in the side of Exeter as he competed hard in the contact area and put real energy into his team... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON

Yet another all-action showing from the No.8, who really should release a book on nutrition as he seems to have the energy of a Duracell bunny... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

FRASER DINGWALL (for Francis 6) - CHRON STAR MAN

What a display from a hugely talented young player! The centre not only scored a crucial try but he topped the Saints tackle count on a stand-out night... 9

FRANCOIS VAN WYK (for Waller 53)

Made nine tackles during his two stints on the field, but like his fellow Saints props, he didn't have it his own way at the scrum... 6

BEN FRANKS (for Hill 53)

Put himself about, trying to use his power to stop Exeter in their tracks and adding crucial experience late on... 6

TOM WOOD (for Gibson 55)

Seemed to be everywhere after coming on, flying into tackles as he looked to stop Exeter at source... 7

HEINRICH BRUSSOW (for Ludlam 55)

Showed his desire from the off, immediately getting feisty with an opposition player, and adding real fire to the Saints defensive effort... 6

It was a full house at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night

It was a full house at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night