Jim Mallinder was a relieved man after Northampton Saints came from 13 points down to beat Exeter Chiefs 20-19 at Franklin’s Gardens, but singled out winger George North for his box-office display.
North powered over for Saints’ first score before his moment of brilliance provided Rory Hutchinson with a run-in for his first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby try as Mallinder’s men at last clinched a home win this season.
Welsh winger North had been superb against Wasps in defeat last week, but he didn’t have to settle for second best this time around thanks to Harry Mallinder’s nerveless kick two minutes from time.
And Mallinder had nothing but praise for North as Saints now prepare for a clash against Harlequins at The Stoop next time out.
“When you have a world-class player like George North you just want him in the game as much as you can,” Mallinder said.
“George has had a very good start to the season, last week we were really please with his game. He carried the ball I think 19 times last week.
“That second try – there’s not many players who can do that. It was a fantastic break and just timing the pass to perfection.
“You don’t want him coming in-field chasing the ball all the time because when you get that opportunity out wide, you want him on the wing to finish.
“It was a messy game, a terrible start, we looked all at sea, but we came back. Nobody really took control in that second-half, so for us just to get over the line is very, very important.
“In experience we weren’t quite there, but in application and effort we were fantastic.”
Rob Baxter was left to rue his side’s lapses in concentration after they were reeled in by North, Mallinder and French No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Chiefs have now lost three of their first five league games and Baxter is keen for his side to stop gifting easy points.
“We came here and got a losing bonus point last year and had a good season. Northampton are a good, well-established side with a good home record,” Baxter said.
“It feels more frustrating because we had Northampton under some pressure.
“A lot of what we wanted to do here today, we got quite right. We wanted to control the first half territory-wise early on, we felt that would create some opportunity for us and it did.
“We managed to give up some relatively soft points, a bit of a switch off from one thing to another. That is a little bit our Achilles heel at the moment, from one good thing not to follow it up with something that is a bit messy.
“In that last 20 minutes it felt like we were grasping for lineout possession and we were grasping for territory, it became like slow death. Northampton were controlling things better than we did.”
Northampton Saints: Foden (Olver 68); Pisi, Pisi (Tuala 62), Hutchinson, North; Mallinder, Groom (Kessell 63); Waller (Ma’afu 63), Haywood, Brookes (Hill 58); Lawes, Paterson (Dickinson 70); Gibson, Clark (Harrison 59), Picamoles.
Unused Replacements: Clare
Exeter Chiefs: Turner; Woodburn, Devoto (Hill 26), Slade, Whitten (Nowell 57); Steenson, Chudley; Moon (Hepburn 48), Yeandle (Cowan-Dickie 48), Holmes (Williams 60); Lees (Welch 59), Parling; Dennis, Horstmann, Waldrom (White 78).
Unused Replacements: Hill, Lewis
Referee: M Carle
Tries: North, Hutchinson
Conversions: Mallinder 2
Penalties: Mallinder 2
Penalties: Steension 4