Northampton Saints 24-21 Exeter Chiefs, Aviva Premiership
Saints rally to see off Chiefs
September 9, 2012
Exeter's Brett Sturgess is tackled by Northampton's GJ van Velze
© Getty Images
Northampton staged a second half comeback to beat Exeter 24-21 at Franklin's Gardens and extend their unbeaten start to the Aviva Premiership season.
Luther Burrell and Dylan Hartley crossed for second-half tries as the Saints deservedly won a disjointed match at Franklin's Gardens. It was not a convincing performance from the Saints as they let a 12-0 lead slip away to trail 13-12 at the interval, before their pack began to dominate. The home side scored four tries to two but poor goal-kicking and ill-discipline allowed Exeter to remain in the match right up until the final whistle.
Northampton made the better start with their forward drives troubling the visitors' defence and they had the first opportunity for points. James Scaysbrook gave away a penalty 30 metres out but Ryan Lamb mis-hit his kick badly wide.
Exeter had their first chance of points in the 11th minute but Ignacio Mieres was also unsuccessful with a 30-metre penalty. Some elementary errors from the Chiefs allowed Northampton to continue to dominate in terms of territory and following some incisive running from Dom Waldouck and Hartley, both Soane Tonga'uiha and Ken Pisi were hauled down narrowly short.
The Saints deservedly took the lead after 18 minutes when Ben Foden first fielded a clearance kick from Mieres, then evaded a couple of defenders to send Vasily Artemyev away. The wing ran 30 metres to provide the scoring pass for Christian Day but Lamb again missed with an easy conversion attempt.
Exeter responded when their scrum decimated the home eight to gain a penalty which Mieres missed from almost straight in front, 40 metres out.
Almost immediately, Northampton made them pay with their second try. Lamb made a neat break to set in a motion a fluent movement which ended with Phil Dowson driving over from close range for the try which Lamb converted with the most difficult kick of the afternoon.
After 30 minutes, Exeter scored their first try when Josh Tatupu broke strongly down the flank to send Phil Dollman over with Mieres converting. Lamb had a chance to extend Northampton's advantage but his 25-metre drop-kick was badly wide before the outside-half conceded a penalty with a high tackle.
That allowed Mieres to first kick that goal and quickly another as home No.8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze was yellow-carded for a late challenge. Exeter failed to take advantage of Van Velze's absence and the scored remained at 13-12 to the visitors after 50 minutes. It was at that stage Saints introduced Stephen Myler as a replacement for the disappointing Lamb.
Mieres kicked his third penalty as Tatupu left the field, sitting up on a stretcher before Northampton lifted the tempo and regained the lead. Tom Wood won a line-out on halfway, Ken Pisi tore down the right flank and when the ball recycled, replacement Burrell powered through some poor Exeter defence for a try on his home Premiership debut.
Northampton collected their bonus point when Dylan Hartley burst over from a line-out 10 metres out and Myler's conversion gave his side an eight-point lead with 15 minutes remaining. Myler missed with a late penalty, allowing Exeter a slim chance. Rhys Oakley was sin-binned for a foolish trip and Matt Jess crossed for a late try but it was too late to matter.
Northampton coach Jim Mallinder immediately raised the bar for his side. "Our performance was a mixed bag," he said. "We were good in the first 20 minutes scoring two good tries but then we relaxed, kicked loosely and going down to 14 men put us under some considerable pressure. However we kept our cool in the first 10 minutes of the second half and then our forwards went on to dominate."
Northampton would have won more comfortably had Ryan Lamb not been off form with his goal kicking with Mallinder commenting, "We have two good number 10s, Lamb missed a couple of kicks as their kicker did. Stephen is a steady head and controlled the game when he came on and had a big hand in our crucial try."
The Saints coach also paid tribute to skipper Hartley, who was man of the match after picking up his second try in as many fixtures. "Dylan stands out with his attitude, he doesn't have a sloppy session he is always the first there and the hardest there," he said.
Exeter coach Rob Baxter was able to take many positives from the defeat, reflecting: "I am pretty pleased. On the two previous occasions here we have been comfortably defeated. Last season we lost 33-3 but today we were in the lead at half-time and were competitive to the end.
"It was by far our best performance here and we made it very edgy for Northampton right up until the end. However, we kicked away too much possession in the first quarter but after that we looked a good side and kept playing with tempo."
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