Northampton Saints 31 Exeter Chiefs 34: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

While it was certainly Sunday funday for Exeter Chiefs and the neutral, it was more Groundhog Day for Saints.

By Tom Vickers
Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 11:25 am

Because, just as they had eight days earlier, they tasted defeat thanks to a late penalty.

This time it wasn’t that they missed one, it was that they conceded one.

Joe Simmonds stepped up and slotted it, sparking the familiar sight of an opposition team celebrating at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

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Far from being the fortress Saints hoped it would be this season, the Gardens has once again been something of a freehouse.

Because while Saints are capable of blowing teams away with some of the stylish rugby they play when they are at their best, they so rarely do it enough to earn the win.

They have not been victorious at home since the start of December when a beleaguered and injury-ravaged Bath side were put to the sword.

Saints have since lost to Racing 92, Saracens, Ulster, Sale Sharks and now Exeter.

Alex Mitchell

Aside from the Racing game, Saints were well in those matches but while Chris Boyd’s side failed to show the composure needed to prevail, their opponents escaped.

Saints have shown they can get bums off seats with some of the tries they are capable of scoring, but sadly they will be struggling to put bums on them if they carry on losing.

Because however entertaining your rugby is, it soon wears thin when fans are watching their team lose at home every time they play.

That feeling of disappointment and frustration lingers in the stands just as it does on the field.

Going to games is partially about creating memories, but one of the abiding ones from this match was of a young boy who kept hold of his chips when he was accidentally hit by a James Grayson clearance kick.

The positive result and the impact it has on the league table should be the thing that makes the supporters smile, but again it was lacking.

And it has left Saints staring down the barrel in the pursuit of a top-four place that many will really doubt they can achieve now.

After all, if you want to be a play-off team you often have to have a strong home record and a penchant for picking up points when you really shouldn’t.

Saints are a team who struggle to pick up points when they should, so that really doesn’t bode well.

And yet the agony is amplified by just how close they seem to come.

Time after time they promise so much but deliver so little when it comes to the crunch.

They were totally dominant at 28-17 up against Exeter, smashing the Chiefs at the scrum, so much so that Juarno Augustus was able to cruise in for a score with most of the visiting pack flat on their faces.

Saints should have killed the game off, must like they should have killed it off against Sale on the previous weekend.

They had three tries to their name in both matches, with plenty of chances to make it four and bag a bonus-point win that would have propelled them towards the top four.

Instead, they lost control and lost the game.

Why they replaced their props on 50 minutes after completely overpowering Exeter at the scrum, only the coaches know.

It felt like there was at least another five or 10 minutes left in the tank for Manny Iyogun, a man of the match contender, and Ehren Painter.

But off they came and off came the wheels.

Alex Mitchell, who was looking fatigued and may have been a more worthy contender to come off, was sin-binned and Saints unravelled.

Rob Baxter spoke before the game about how if Exeter could turn the screw, Saints would make errors.

And so his prophecy came true as they saw their lead ebb away.

There was still time to level the scores after Exeter grabbed a stunning bonus-point try, and a late lineout even gave Saints a chance to win it.

But they couldn’t keep their foot on the Exeter throat and they were made to pay as the ever-lively Tom O’Flaherty found a gap in the home defence and forced a penalty in front of the posts.

The successful kick was inevitable, and so it felt was the disappointment.

No matter how well they play for long periods of games at home, it just seems like they can’t get over the line.

They have been unable to find the consistently they need to become a winning machine.

And now it seems another season is starting to slip from their grasp, like so many before it.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Moved back to full-back and was able to make some good contributions as he searched from openings in the Exeter defence... 6.5

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Didn't do much wrong and kept trying to skip past Exeter players when he got the chance, but the away side largely handled him well... 6

MATT PROCTOR

Another really influential display from the centre, who grabbed a try and was unlucky to be on the losing team... 8

FRASER DINGWALL

Delivered a superb assist for Collins' try and was largely strong again, but did miss more tackles than he normally would... 6.5

TOM COLLINS

Missed a tackle on scorer Josh Hodge during the first half but made up for that with a try of his own and also made a scintillating break that had the fans on their feet... 7

JAMES GRAYSON

A strong return to the starting line-up for the fly-half as he largely kicked well, a couple of moments aside, and also contributed plenty around the park... 7

ALEX MITCHELL

Showed plenty of spark as ever, and he was always testing the Exeter defence, but his yellow card during the second half proved costly for Saints... 6

MANNY IYOGUN

A superb performance in the scrum and around the park from the young prop. Saints were 28-17 up when Iyogun came off and he continues to show immense potential in all areas... 8

MIKE HAYWOOD

A good display from the hooker, who tried to make things happen and who will hope for a run of games after a disrupted first half of the season... 7.5

EHREN PAINTER

Like Iyogun, this man enjoyed a strong game, helping Saints to take Exeter to task up front in a powerful display... 7.5

DAVID RIBBANS

A big shift from the lock as he continually powered into contact, but he did find himself on the wrong side of the referee again... 7

API RATUNIYARAWA

Kept trucking away for his team, getting his hands on the ball and taking it into contact time and again... 7.5

ALEX COLES

Made a couple of errors early on but bounced back strongly and put in plenty of effort, making a team-high 24 tackles... 7

SAM MATAVESI

Knocked on a couple of times but was extremely active in the game, racking up an eye-watering 23 tackles... 7.5

JUARNO AUGUSTUS

Grabbed another try after coming into the team at late notice and also provided a fantastic assist for Matt Proctor during the first period... 7.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ALEX WALLER (for Iyogun 50)

Wasn't really able to help Saints maintain their forward momentum as Exeter's fresh front row started to have a say... 5.5

PAUL HILL (for Painter 50)

Made one trademark charge into Exeter territory but Saints started to find themselves on the back foot during the final half and hour, losing the last 30 minutes 17-3... 5.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Joe Simmonds (Exeter)