Saints edge past Exeter

Date published: September 30 2016

A late penalty from Harry Mallinder helped Northampton pick up a vital 20-19 win over Exeter in a thrilling Premiership clash on Friday.

Rob Baxter's men started the encounter superbly, racing into a 13-0 lead through Olly Woodburn's try and eight points from the boot of Gareth Steenson, but Northampton hit back before the break.

They scored two tries in as many minutes with George North and Rory Hutchinson – on his debut – going over for the hosts.

Steenson re-established the West Country team's lead after the break with two penalties before Mallinder reduced the arrears with 13 minutes to go.

And Mallinder was the hero when his late three-point effort bisected the uprights to snatch the victory.

The Midlands outfit have had a disappointing start to the campaign following three losses in four and the Chiefs looked to continue their opponents' misery.

Exeter began excellently and that pressure was rewarded with a Steenson penalty.

By contrast, the Saints failed to get any meaningful possession in the opening quarter and star number eight Louis Picamoles was particularly struggling under the high ball. A tentative move towards another 'up and under' allowed the visitors to build through the phases and, after midfield trio Steenson, Henry Slade and Ollie Devoto had combined, Woodburn crossed the whitewash out wide.

With a successful conversion by the away side's fly-half moving them 10 points clear, the visitors had a lead their play deserved.

Steenson's second three-pointer only added to the frustration for Northampton, but they soon found their rhythm and produced a devastating two minute burst. Wales international North was the catalyst, going over for their first try, before the wing scythed through the Chiefs' defence from the restart. He then passed to Nic Groom who subsequently off-loaded to Hutchinson and the centre had an easy run to the line.

Suddenly, the hosts were in control and continued to dominate proceedings early in the second period, but a slip by Ben Foden gave Baxter's men an opportunity to regain the lead. From the tee, their fly-half made no mistake and they went into the final quarter 16-14 in front.

Steenson soon kicked another for a five-point buffer but the Saints lifted the intensity and successive Mallinder penalties – the second with three minutes to go – gave the hosts the win.

The scorers:

For Northampton:
Tries: North, Hutchinson
Cons: Mallinder 2
Pens: Mallinder 2

For Exeter:
Try: Woodburn
Con: Steenson
Pens: Steenson 4

Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden (c), 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 George North, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Ahsee Tuala

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Jack Nowell

Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey, Simon McConnell
TMO: Graham Hughes