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Match Reaction: Northampton Saints 18 Exeter Chiefs 24

After watching his team upset the odds in their Aviva Premiership Rugby triumph over Northampton Saints, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter praised his squad’s ruthless opportunism.

Chiefs subjected the champions to their first home loss of the Aviva Premiership season and, in turn, elevated themselves to second place in the table ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

Two tries from Thomas Waldrom and one from Luke Cowan-Dickie in the first half gave the visitors a comfortable lead at Franklin’s Gardens before they fended off a late Saints surge.

And Baxter believes his side showed that they can go toe-to-toe with the best in the league.

"These opportunities in the Premiership don't come that often but when they do, you've got to make the most of them if you're going to have a good season,” he said.

"We showed a lot of good qualities out there today. The energy we went out there with at the start was very important.

"Northampton are by far the best starting team in the Premiership – you’ve only got to look at the points they score in the first 20 minutes – they’re way better than anyone else in the league.

"To get to 20 minutes and be one point in the lead was quite a telling factor for us. 

"As much as Northampton did come after us after half-time, as they have done in other games we've played against them, we just had enough to see the game home.”

A frustrating opening period for Northampton was made worse 15 minutes into the second half when Gareth Steenson added a penalty to give Exeter a 24-6 lead.

But Saints refused to go out without a fight and Tom Stephenson ignited an improbable comeback before Jamie Elliott picked up his side’s second try.

However, a missed conversion from Stephen Myler meant Saints couldn’t close the deficit to less than six points and director of rugby Jim Mallinder says his side’s sluggish first-half performance was the key to their demise. 

"From kick-off we conceded a really sloppy try, didn't take the restart, got driven over from the maul, halfway through gave away an interception try,” he said.

"It wasn't just the start, it was the first half. We talked about their line speed during the week and we struggled with that.

"Just before half-time, they scored from a five-metre scrum and suddenly you go in three tries down and you've got an uphill battle.

"They came with a simple game plan and that was to kick the ball away and then take their opportunities and they did it very, very successfully.

"I know the crowd were getting very, very frustrated but there's not a lot of options when they've got a good line and it is tricky out there. 

"You can't play too much with a wet ball. Some of our kicking wasn't brilliant, but we tried to play the game in their half and we came back well in the second half."

Northampton Saints: Foden; Elliott, Stephenson, Burrell, Collins; Myler, Dickson; M Waller (E Waller 61), Haywood, Ma'afu (Denman 54); Manoa, Day; Clark, Nutley (Harrison 59), Dowson (capt).
 
Replacements: McMillan, Woolford, Hodgson, Wilson, Waldouck.
 
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman (Whitten 59); Nowell, Slade, Hill, Jess; Steenson (McGuigan 76), Chudley (Thomas 9); Rimmer (Moon 54), Cowan-Dickie (Bateman 70), Francis (Low 57); Mumm (capt), Welch (Caldwell 74); White (Horstmann 59), Armand, Waldrom.
 
Northampton Saints
Tries: Stephenson, Elliott
Conversions: Myler
Penalties: Myler 2
 
Exeter Chiefs
Tries: Cowan-Dickie, Waldrom 2
Conversions: Steenson 3
Penalties: Steenson
 
Referee: Dean Richards
Attendance: 13,362

 

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