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- Team Name
- Northampton Saints
- Team Score
- Team Icon
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- Exeter Chiefs
- Team Score
Northampton Saints 20
Exeter Chiefs 19
Mark Stevens at Franklin’s Gardens
Harry Mallinder eased the pressure on father Jim as Northampton Saints collected their first home win of the season with a 20-19 victory over Exeter Chiefs at Franklin’s Gardens.
The young playmaker landed a telling blow for the Midlanders with just two minutes remaining when he punished Rob Baxter’s side with a late penalty.
His 10-point haul, coupled with tries for George North and Rory Hutchinson, ensured only a second win of the season for the Saints, whose two previous home outings against Bath and Wasps had both ended in failure.
For the Chiefs, it was not only a disappointing outcome, but a largely frustrating one as they will have felt their hosts were there for the taking having dominated for large parts of the opening half.
Winger Olly Woodburn’s fifth-minute try gave them the perfect start, while Gareth Steenson was able to pass 2,000 league and cup points with his 14 points on the night.
In the end, though, it was the Saints who marched up the table, much to the relief of the majority packed inside the stadium.
Buoyed by back-to-back victories over Harlequins and Bristol, the Chiefs arrived in the East Midlands looking to build on their recent successes, whilst at the same time looking to heap further misery on a Saints outfit who had lost three of their opening four games.
Ahead of kick-off, Baxter made a handful of changes to his winning formula from the week previous. Four of them came in the pack where there were starts for Ben Moon, Jack Yeandle, Geoff Parling and Kai Horstmann, whilst behind England international Ollie Devoto was preferred to Sam Hill in the centre.
The Saints, meanwhile, welcomed back Callum Clark to their line-up for the first time in over a year, while at fly-half they were forced to make a last-minute change when Stephen Myler pulled out, so Malinger moved into the playmaker role with Hutchinson promoted from the bench.
With conditions perfect for running rugby, it was the visitors who set the early pace and it took them just five minutes to break the deadlock as Steenson slotted an early penalty after Jamie Gibson had illegally hauled an Exeter maul to the floor.
The Travelling Tribe were still celebrating that early success when the Chiefs struck again, a scintillating handling move saw them tear open the Northampton defence, creating the space for Henry Slade to send in Woodburn for a try in the corner.
Steenson, as he so often does, banged over the testing touchline conversion, before slotting a second penalty on 16 minutes as the Chiefs raced into a 13-0 lead.
With the natives growing restless inside the Gardens, the Saints needed to summon a rapid response to haul themselves back into the contest.
This they did – to deadly effect – stinging Baxter’s side with two converted tries in as many minutes.
Welsh winger North was the first to prosper, brushing aside the attentions of Woodburn and Lachie Turner to score in the corner; then he helped turned provider for Northampton’s second – his initial break from the restart saw him link with Nic Groom, whose simple offload allowed Hutchinson to go in under the posts.
Suddenly in the blink of an eye the Chiefs had gone from ruling the roost to somehow trailing on the scoreboard.
Steenson looked to re-establish their lead when he was afforded a third penalty chance, but this time the Irishman could not deliver the telling blow, pulling his kick wide of the right post.
At the other end, Mallinder tried – and failed – with an ambitious, long-range drop-goal chance, before the Chiefs coughed up possession just inches from the home line when Horstmann looked to carry hard coming round the corner.
HALF TIME NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 14 EXETER CHIEFS 13
After an action-packed first half, the second period began at a more sedate pace as both sides looked to assert some early dominance.
The battle for territory was paramount with Mallinder and Ben Foden looking to pin back the Chiefs with kicks in behind, while Messrs Steenson, Slade and Turner returned the compliment in kind with some booming efforts of their own.
It was, however, the Saints who looked the more threatening and the Chiefs were lucky not to escape punishment when Ian Whitten appeared to knock the ball down as the hosts looked to attack down the right.
Thankfully, the officials deemed the indiscretion nothing more than a penalty award and the visitors were able to soak up the threat before clearing the ball down field themselves.
Now back in the Northampton half, it was the turn of the Chiefs to go through their attacking patterns. Initially the Saints had to do little to repel the threat, but then they shot themselves in the foot when the experienced Foden strayed offside looking to collect a loose ball.
It gifted Steenson another shot at the target and this time the Dungannon-born marksman made no mistake, drilling over his third penalty of the night to restore Exeter’s slender lead.
Shortly after and Steenson was at it again – landing a fourth penalty midway through the half – to take him past yet another career milestone for the Devon club.
However, visiting cheers proved short-lived as almost immediately the Saints countered with a successful penalty of their own, Mallinder punishing the ‘Men in White’ for straying offside in midfield.
As the game entered into it’s final throws, both sides worked tirelessly to try and find a decisive knockout blow. And it was Northampton who found it – two minutes from time – through the boot of Mallinder.
Having barged their way through a succession of drives from Louis Picamoles, Lawes and Mallinder, the ball was worked wide to the right. Devoto and Turner did well to initially hold the home wave, but when the former was floored, referee Carley adjudged Devoto had failed to roll away from the tackle.
It was a gift, a much-needed one in these parts given recent results, but Mallinder made no mistake as he dissected the posts with his kick, sparking scenes of delight around all four corners of the grounds.
Floored, the Chiefs tried to rouse themselves for one last throw of the dice, but the Saints defiantly held firm. Next up for Exeter is Saturday’s home date with Gloucester, where your sure a firm reaction is sure to follow.
Saints: B Foden (capt, S Olver 69); K Pisi, G Pisi (A Tuala 62), R Hutchinson, G North; H Mallinder, N Groom (T Kessell 63); A Waller (C Ma’afu 27-33, 63), M Haywood, K Brookes (P Hill 58); C Lawes, M Paterson (S Dickenson 70); J Gibson, C Clark (T Harrison 59), L Picamoles. Replacement (not used): C Clare
Tries – North, Hutchinson; Conversions – Mallinder (2); Penalties – Mallinder (2)
Chiefs: L Turner; O Woodburn, O Devoto (S Hill 24-31), H Slade, I Whitten (J Nowell 57); G Steenson (capt), W Chudley (D Lewis 20-28); B Moon (A Hepburn 48), J Yeandle (L Cowan-Dickie 48), G Holmes (H Williams 60); M Lees (D Welch 59), G Parling; D Dennis, K Horstmann, T Waldrom (B White 78).
Try – Woodburn; Conversion – Steenson; Penalties – Steenson (4)
Referee: M Carley