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Match Reaction: Exeter Chiefs 20 Northampton Saints 12

Exeter assistant coach Ali Hepher hailed his side’s ability to fightback from a half-time deficit as they overcame a spirited Northampton Saints to win 20-12 at Sandy Park.

Scores from Lee Dickson and Ken Pisi looked set to give play-off chasing Northampton Saints a crucial win but after the break it was all the Chiefs.

Gareth Steenson kicked five penalties and Olly Woodburn touched down, with England international Henry Slade particularly impressive behind the scrum.

"We looked as though we weren't enjoying our rugby in the first half as we were frightened to make mistakes," Hepher said.

"We had a quiet word at half-time and this freed us up. We created a different and positive mindset and we said that we needed to be positive and not afraid of errors.

"We took on the message and turned the screw, we had a bit of self-belief."

Exeter surprisingly took the decision to take off top try-scoring No 8 Thomas Waldrom midway through the second half and replace him with Julian Salvi.

Hepher explained the decision, saying: "We struggled at the breakdown, Thomas wasn't injured and Julian is one of the best in that area in the Premiership."

Prior to kick-off the Chiefs had the best home record in Aviva Premiership Rugby, having picked up 32 league points from their eight fixtures at Sandy Park and they showed exactly why as they fought back from a 12-3 half-time deficit.

“We are getting towards the end of the season and picking up or losing a bonus point is crucial at this stage,” said Don Armand. “We really pulled it out today and we managed to sneak Northampton out of a losing bonus point, which is very pleasing.

“I don’t think we suffered from nerves at all during the first half, I just think errors are always going to occur when you’re going for it.

“I think it might have spilled over from last week where we had quite a few turnovers but after the break we got our minds on the job, fixed our errors and we got the crucial result.

“We haven’t been in the play-offs before and so course we’re going to get quite excited about our position presently but I think it’s different for everyone.

“There are some people at the club who have come from international sides, some guys who have come from the Championship but as a team we’re excited and it’s something new for this club.

“We have improved from last year, it’s a real challenge to finish in the top four and I think the boys are really looking up to those challenges.”

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder felt that his side had not had the rub of the green.

"It's frustrating, we didn't get the bounce of the ball and a few refereeing decisions went against us. I thought we scored a good try right at the end, which would have got us a bonus point, and the officials were wrong to disallow it," he said.

"I thought we were very good in the first half as we took our opportunities but our second-half performance was poor as we coughed up possession and kicked away too much ball.

"The Six Nations period was a good one for us as we've won more than we've lost and hopefully we'll be able to integrate our international players back into our side for a key game against Harlequins next week."

Exeter now face a top-of-the-table clash at Saracens next weekend with Hepher looking forward to the challenge.

"We can't afford to have a poor half against them but we did win up there last year," he said.

"We are now top but we are taking it by stage by stage. First we want to be in the top six for Europe, then top four for play-offs and then it would be great to get a home semi-final if we are in the top two. We are just attempting to knock off the targets, one by one."

Exeter Chiefs: Dollman, Woodburn, Slade, Whitten (Hill 14), Short, Steenson, Lewis (Chudley 49), Moon,(Hepburn 46), Yeandle, Williams, Atkins, Parling, Ewers, Armand, Waldrom (Salvi 53)
Replacements not used: Taione, Rimmer, Stevenson, Turner

Northampton Saints: Foden, K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder (Marshall 49), Tuala (Wilson 40), Hanrahan (Myler 53), Dickson (Fotuali'i 43), Waller (Waller 65), Haywood, Hill (Denman 69), Craig, Day (Matfield 69), Harrison, Gibson, Fisher (Wood 53)


Exeter Chiefs – 20
Tries: Woodburn
Penalties – Steenson 5

Northampton Saints – 12
Tries: Dickson, K Pisi
Conversions: Hanrahan

Referee: Greg Garner

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