Exeter Chiefs won the LV= Cup for the first time in their history in front of a jubilant Sandy Park as captain Dean Mumm’s second-half try clinched a 15-8 victory over Northampton Saints.
Terrific work from the maul allowed hooker Chris Whitehead to plant the ball over the whitewash early on, but Glenn Dickson responded from the tee in an incredibly tight affair.
Henry Slade restored a five-point advantage before the interval and Mumm’s bullying run to the line – after a superb passing move – made sure the Chiefs emerged victors, despite Samu Manoa’s response ten minutes from time.
For the Chiefs it was not just the chance to win silverware on their home turf, but to pick up what arguably would be the most prized trophy in their 143-year history.
The last Exeter captain to hold a cup aloft was current head coach Rob Baxter, with an eighth successive Devon Senior Cup win in 1996.
The Saints however are more accustomed to success, last emerging with the LV= Cup in 2010 at the expense of Saracens before finishing runners-up to Leicester Tigers two years later.
Phil Dollman was first to get the juices flowing after squeezing through a hole in the Northampton linesbut the centre’s final pass strayed out of bounds.
It was an excuse for the Sandy Park crowd to grow even louder however and the Chiefs’ bruising driving maul from the ensuing line-out dug out room for No.2 Whitehead to dot down.
But the Aviva Premiership leaders are a side that do not let an early setback pin them down for long and concerted scrummaging yielded their first penalty of the match.
Dickson promptly split the posts to cut the arrears down to two and only stout Chiefs defending prevented Northampton making further inroads soon after a turnover by Kahn Fotuali’i.
George Pisi then GJ Van Velze started to punch through the Chiefs with separate carries into opposition territory and despite a succession of neat passing, the Saints once again came up short.
Saints were also continuing to apply pressure through the scrum but Baxter’s troops survived two resets and held on to clear their lines.
Having survived that onslaught it was the turn of Exeter to apply the pressure and were awarded a penalty in the breakdown after a Luke Arscott carry – but Slade’s placekick went astray.
However, Slade would not miss in his next venture to the tee as a Saints knock-on ensured Chiefs entered the break five points to the good.
The maul was one key area that had been dominated by Exeter all day and after the break another crushing set-piece Slade knocked the resultant penalty deep into Northampton territory.
A golden chance came to nothing after ill-discipline in the ruck but soon after Fetu'u Vainikolo started to gather in influence.
The wing first burst through to put Saints on the backfoot and then, moments later, slick interplay with Vainikolo at its fulcrum allowed Dean Mumm to plough over the line.
Despite the best efforts of Ben Foden and Jamie Elliott the TMO confirmed that Mumm had grounded the ball, as Slade converted to put even more daylight between the Saints.
The game may have slipped from their grasp completely if not for a breathtaking tackle from Fotuali’I to stop a jinking Arscott from reaching a gaping try-line.
It had been a case of oh so nearly for many Saints moves as an onrushing Manoa was stopped at the last by Slade, before Ken Pisi could not quite gather in brother George’s pass.
But after a sprawling pass out of the hands of Dickson Jim Mallinder’s men finally found their breakthrough, Manoa using his pace to power through on the left.
Now there were just ten minutes remaining and the Chiefs reverted to type with heroic last-ditch defending as they sensed an historic day.
Slade could have made it sure in the dying minutes but his penalty cannoned back off the post amid the swirling wind, but it wouldn’t matter as the final whistle blew – and the roof came off Sandy Park.