Northampton 27-21 Exeter, Aviva Premiership, October 2
Saints hold off brave Chiefs
October 2, 2010
Northampton's Paul Diggin holds off the Exeter defence to score at Franklin's Gardens
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Northampton may it four wins out of five games in this season's Aviva Premiership with a hard-fought 27-21 victory over Exeter at Franklin's Gardens.
Bruce Reihana contributed 17 points and passed a Premiership scoring landmark after being handed the kicking duties in preference to fly-half Shane Geraghty. The long-serving Kiwi went past the 1,000 point mark in the Aviva Premiership with his second penalty, after Exeter were caught offside in front of their own posts in the 16th minute. Saints had led 16-9 at the break thanks to Paul Diggin's try and three Reihana penalties, Gareth Steenson knocking over three penalties of his own for the visitors.
Two more Reihana penalties and a try from prop Soane Tonga'uhia sealed the home side's win, while Chris Budgen and Luke Arscott crossed to earn Exeter a losing bonus point.
Reihana had already kicked two penalties by the time local boy Diggin squeezed over in the right-hand corner to finish a move started by scrum-half Lee Dickson. He found Tonga'uhia and the giant Samoan powered into the Exeter defence before finding Diggin on his shoulder to put Saints 13-0 ahead after 19 minutes.
Steenson, whose fifth minute penalty from the halfway line fell just short, opened Exeter's account in the 24th minute after Northampton were penalised for collapsing their scrum. Three minutes later, Reihana pulled his kick wide when the Exeter pack transgressed again but made amends in the 34th minute to extend the Northampton lead to 16-3 after Exeter where again caught offside in front of their posts.
However, kicking prodigy Steenson gave the Chiefs a lifeline with two penalties in the final three minutes of the first half. Northampton should have had more to show for their first half dominance, as their scrum repeatedly forced the Exeter pack into reverse.
The under-pressure Chiefs conceded a stream of penalties as they struggled to contend with a Northampton front row whose scrummaging power was increased by the recall of Scotland international Euan Murray for his first start of the season. And two penalties from Reihana in the first 10 minutes of the second half punished Exeter as their pack again got into trouble with referee J P Doyle.
Sheer hard work kept Exeter in contention and their one-dimensional attacks took them to within yards of the Northampton line before lock James Hanks and Sireli Naqelevuki, the newly-signed Fijian winger making his Premiership debut, were hauled down. But the Saints hit back with their second try, spurning the chance of a penalty kick to put the ball in the corner before their pack forced Tonga'uiha over in the left-hand corner in the 62nd minute.
Exeter's never-say-die spirit was rewarded with a try when their pack drove Budgen over in the 70th minute and Steenson converted to reduce the deficit to 11 points. Northampton lost centre Jon Clarke to the sin bin in the 69th minute and Exeter punished the 14 men as Arscott earned them a point, stretching over the line by the left-corner flag with three minutes remaining.
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