Northampton Saints left it late before claiming top spot in the Aviva Premiership thanks to George Pisi’s dramatic converted try that shattered Exeter Chiefs’ resistance.
After seeing Saracens slip up against London Irish earlier in the day, Saints looked set for the same fate after Dave Lewis’ scored a 53rd-minute try and Gareth Steenson’s conversion put the home side 16-10 up.
But with time fast running out Pisi ran the perfect line to pick up an inviting Kahn Fotuali’i pass and burrow over the line and Stephen Myler held his nerve to convert the winning points.
Northampton had set their sights on top spot following Saracens’ slip-up against London Irish earlier in the day, and they had an early advantage as Exeter were reduced to 14 men.
Skipper Dean Mumm spent ten minutes in the sin bin after being penalised for stamping on Northampton No.8 Sam Dickinson.
But the home side continued to play the game in the visitors’ half and took the lead through Steenson’s penalty after Alex Waller was punished for a high tackle.
The Chiefs fly-half was unable to make the most of a more difficult penalty attempt soon after and Saints were soon in front as Samu Manoa sent Kiwi full-back James Wilson over.
Myler’s conversion attempt hit the outside of the left post, with the strong breeze playing a considerable part.
Northampton were having the better of the game and had their sights second on a second score when Dickinson burst through the middle, only to be stopped just short of the line.
Exeter mounted a riposte and after Steenson had missed another kick, the fly-half finally found the target to put his team in front.
But they didn’t hold the lead for long as Northampton mounted a charge towards the home line and Manoa kept his balance well to score in the corner.
Myler again missed a tough conversion against the wind before Steenson brought the Chiefs back to within a point after Salesi Ma’afu was punished for a high tackle.
Northampton held the lead going into the break, but they were hit by a sin-binning just three minutes after the restart as Greg Garner carded GJ van Velze for obstruction.
Exeter made their opponents pay as Wilson’s sloppy pass on halfway gave them territory and after Dave Ewers was denied by the TMO, scrum-half Lewis darted over the line.
Steenson made the kick in torrid conditions to put the Chiefs 16-10 up with 25 minutes left and Northampton had their work cut out.
The home side were defending resiliently, preventing the Saints getting any momentum past halfway.
But after a series of big scrums from the visiting pack, Pisi found a gap to cut through the Exeter rearguard.
Myler kept his nerve to secure a ninth successive win for his side and send them to the top of the Premiership table.
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