Tries from Tommy Freeman, Curtis Langdon, Alex Mitchell, and Fraser Dingwall as well as a stellar performance at fly-half from Fin Smith gave Northampton Saints the bonus-point win at home with a 34-19 score line.
Exeter’s efforts from Jacques Vermeulen, Scott Sio, Ethan Roots were not enough to earn them any points from their visit to Franklin’s Gardens, and they dropped from first in the table at the start of the round to fifth going into round six.
Freeman opened the scoring for Saints two minutes into the match has he collected a well-timed chip through from Smith to score. After a series of sloppy penalties from Exeter, Smith extended the score line to 10-0 with a penalty in the 17th minute.
Their second try was scored by hooker Langdon who attached himself to the back of a strong rolling maul to dot down in the 21st minute before Smith added the conversion.
Saints managed to keep Exeter at bay until just past the half hour mark, however it was Vermeulen who finally got on the score sheet after multiple phases. The flanker powered over the line after he pushed through two attempted tackles to earn five points for the visitors. Slade’s conversion attempt was just wide, and Saints went into half time with a 17-5 lead.
It took ten minutes for the first points to be scored in the second half, and it was Smith who slotted a penalty to put Saints 20-5 up. They soon added to their score line with a fantastic try from Rugby World Cup returnee Mitchell.
Replacement lock Alex Coles set up the foundations for the try with an impressive break that drew in three defenders before he gave the offload to Sam Matavesi. The replacement hooker gave the ball to Freeman who the sent the perfect pass back inside to Mitchell. The England scrum-half turned on the after burners to run from just outside of Chiefs’ 22 to cross the line for a stunning third try.
Sio got Exeter’s second as they worked to break down the Northampton defence from the maul. A speedy exit from the maul through Slade set up a massive carry from Rusi Tuima before Sio was able to muscle over the line to make the score 27-12 after Slade’s conversion.
Despite their recent score, Chiefs soon found themselves down a player. Replacement Niall Armstrong was shown a red card in the 68th minute after he took a high ball. With one leg outstretched his studs made contact with the face of Smith, who played the remainder of the match with claret-splattered face.
The offence was not dissimilar to one at the recent Rugby World Cup which saw Portugal’s Vincent Pinto’s foot make contact with Wales’ Josh Adams’ head. Pinto was also shown a red card, and received a three-match suspension. Exeter will await Armstrong’s disciplinary hearing to discover his fate.
Now a player up, Northampton went on to score their bonus-point try. After a scrum in front of the posts captain Dingwall was sent crashing through the middle to give them an easy five points, extended to seven with an simple conversion from Smith.
Exeter had a resurgence in the final few minutes with a score from Roots, who again powered over from short range, but they weren’t able to score a fourth despite a change in momentum towards the end. Alex Moon spoiled Exeter’s chances of travelling back home with point as he disrupted the final lineout to end the match.
Northampton move up into fourth in the table with 16 points and will face Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers next weekend. Exeter drop down into fifth on 15 points and will host eighth-placed Gloucester next in round six.
Talking point – Exeter miss opportunity to top the table for a second week and allow Northampton Saints to move into the top four
After starting the weekend at the top of the table, a disappointing result at Franklin’s Gardens meant Exeter dropped down to fifth going into round six. The bonus-point win for Saints meant they moved up into the top four, overtaking their round-five opponents, and will go into their derby clash with Leicester Tigers next weekend with 16 points.
A bonus-point win for Exeter would have seen them retain their lead, and a win against Gloucester next weekend will be needed if they hope to move back to the top four soon.
Player of the match – Fin Smith (Northampton Saints)
Fin Smith had a fantastic game, pulling the strings at fly-half for the home side. He set up the first try perfectly for Freeman with the chip kick through for the wing, and enjoyed a largely successful afternoon from the tee.
He said after being awarded his medal: “It’s such a tight league this year. We had two tough first round and second round losses that could have gone either way and then the third and fourth round were tight and could have gone against us. The main thing for us is it’s such a tight league, those home games are going to be so important so we put a massive emphasis on this one and we’re delighted to get over the line.
“We talk about it a lot [tactics], especially in these wet conditions it’s probably going to be a game where you almost don’t want the ball as much as you want it. Mitch [Alex Mitchell] did a great job coming back in and TJ [Tom James] off the bench has been unbelievable so far for us. We spoke a lot about trying to turn them around and making them play out of their end and I thought we did a decent job of that.
“We like to think that we’ve sort of changed people’s opinions of us a little bit this year. We’ve massively gone after our defence and our set piece. Lee Radford our defence coach has done an unbelievable job. We’re trying to mix it with the tougher teams now and be viewed less as a team that can play good rugby but when the going gets tough we used to go away so we’re really happy with the defence and the physical side of things this year. “
Northampton XV: Hendy 8, Freeman 9, Dingwall (capt.) 9, Hutchinson 7, Seabrook 8, Smith 9, Mitchell 9; Waller 8, Langdon 9, Hill 8, Moon 7, Munga 7, Lawes 7, Scott-Young 7, Graham 7
Replacements: Matavesi 8, Waller 7, Davison 7, Coles 8, Pearson 7, James 7, Litchfield 7, Sleightholme 7
Exeter Chiefs XV: Wyatt 4, Feyi-Waboso 3.5, Slade 5, Hawkins, Hammersley, Skinner 4, Cairns; Abuladze, Frost 5, Iosefa-Scott 4, Jenkins (capt.), Pearson 4, Roots 5, Vermeulen 5, Vintcent 4
Replacements: Yeandle 4, Sio 5, Painter 4, Tuima 5, Davis 4, Armstrong 2, Haydon-Wood 4, Hendrickson 4
2’ – Fin Smith sets up Tommy Freeman to score the first try for Saints – Northampton play with the advantage as they work through the phases, and Freeman dots down for the first try of the afternoon in the corner after gathering a lovely chip from Smith! The fly-half spots the gap well to set the winger up to score.
21’ – Northampton add a second through Curtis Langdon: Northampton capitalise from the lineout and it’s hooker Langdon who dots down after joining the back of the maul!
32’ – Jacques Vermeulen scores Exeter’s first: Vermeulen with a huge drive over the line to give Exeter their first try! An important score for Chiefs to put them onto the scoreboard after just over half an hour.
53’ – Alex Mitchell scores Northampton’s third: A beautiful team try from Northampton! Recent replacement Coles makes a fantastic break to make the offload to fellow replacement Matavesi. He releases to Freeman who sends it back inside to Mitchell who runs in a fantastic score from just outside the Chiefs’ 22 at Franklin’s Gardens! The England scrum-half extends his lead as the league’s top try-scoring scrum-half.
63’ – Scott Sio scores Exeter’s second: Sio powers over the line for Chiefs! They get away from the maul quickly through Slade before a huge carry from Tuima, and it’s Sio who eventually breaks the Northampton defence to score their second.
68’ – Niall Armstrong is shown a red card: Armstrong’s leg is left up as he catches the ball in the air and his studs make contact with Smith’s face. It’s an unnatural action and Armstrong is sent to the bin. Exeter down to 14 for the remainder of the match.
71’ – Northampton captain Fraser Dingwall scores their bonus-point try: James gets the ball away from the scrum quickly and captain Dingwall crashes through under the posts! An easy try for Northampton but it gives them an important bonus point!
77’ – Ethan Roots scores Exeter’s third try: Roots gets over the line for Exeter’s third! He drives through the first contact at short range before continuing to power ahead through the second challenge on his way to the line.
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