Exeter Chiefs produced a devastating display of power and control to defeat Northampton Saints and record an Aviva Premiership Rugby double over the reigning champions.
Phil Dollman scored a stunning opening try before James Wilson responded in kind for the visitors, but a second-half penalty try and the boot of Henry Slade were enough to see Exeter home with room to spare, despite Jamie Elliot’s last-gasp try.
Both sides attacked from deep in an entertaining affair, but it was the destructive nature of the Chiefs pack – forcing countless penalties at the scrum and breakdown – that saw them home and back into the top four.
The defeat was just Northampton’s fourth in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season, half of which have come against the impressive West Country outfit.
Given the nature of their European exit last weekend, it was little surprise to see the Saints fly out of the blocks, George Pisi losing possession within sight of the Chiefs line after some sustained pressure.
It was the home side who registered the first points on a sunny afternoon at Sandy Park though, Slade slotting a straightforward scrum penalty after the Exeter pack made an early statement.
Rob Baxter’s men began to find their rhythm after that moment of impetus, and after dragging the Northampton defence from flank to flank, Dollman struck with a fantastic try, capitalising on an overlap to dart through a gap in the staggered defence and dive over in the right corner, Slade pulling the conversion just wide.
Dean Mumm saw yellow as Northampton threatened to respond from a driving maul, but the reigning Aviva Premiership Rugby champions wasted a gilt-edged chance from the ensuing attack, Ken Pisi throwing an offload into touch as the tryline beckoned.
The visitors did eventually find their way over just after the half-hour mark, Wilson doing well to apply the finishing touch in the corner after impressive build up, although Myler was off target with the extras.
The game had really come to life by now, and a sparkling midfield break by Jack Nowell almost resulted in the game’s third try, Luther Burrell providing a brilliant try-saving tackle on Matt Jess before Saints flanker Calum Clark was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball.
That was the final act of the first half, however, the Northampton pack repelling several reset scrums under intense pressure to go in just three points adrift.
The second 40 began in an almost identical fashion to which the first had ended, Myler the second Saints player to see yellow before Slade obliged with the penalty.
And with their visitors down to 13 men, Exeter struck from their next attack, winning a penalty at the lineout and then driving the Saints pack backwards at the scrum to send Barnes under the posts for Exeter’s ninth penalty try of the season.
The hosts’ dominance in the scrummage was threatening to prove pivotal, replacement prop Alex Waller the third Saint sent to the bin as the Exeter pack continued to dominate up front.
Mumm was ruled just short of notching his side’s third try as he drove low towards the post, but any disappointment was soon quelled when Slade slotted another penalty to make it 21-5 after 55 minutes.
Jim Mallinder’s side looked incapable of breaking through an organised Exeter defence, a fact typified on 75 minutes when the visitors broke free on the left but were unable to find the killer pass as the home defenders scrambled back to the raucous joy of the Sandy Park faithful.
And although Elliot dived in at the left corner after some patient Northampton build up with the game’s final play, the Chiefs had done more than enough to warrant their place back in the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four.