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Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 20 Northampton Saints 12

20 Mar 2016
Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 20 Northampton Saints 12

Exeter Chiefs moved top of Aviva Premiership Rugby for a few hours at least as a second-half fightback inspired by England international Henry Slade saw off Northampton Saints at Sandy Park.

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.

Saints scored two tries in the opening 40 minutes; Lee Dickson touched down in the corner, while Ken Pisi scored just before the break, before Olly Woodburn replied for the Chiefs after the break.

Gareth Steenson kicked five penalties for Exeter to secure the win but it was the imagination and creativity of Slade behind the scrum that caught the eye for the Chiefs.  

Exeter should have gone ahead on four minutes; as after a poor Northampton line-out in their own-22, Ian Whitten collected the loose ball and fed  Slade just metres short of the Saints line but the England centre inexplicably knocked on.

A period of Exeter pressure was rewarded with a penalty on 11 minutes, fly-half Steenson comfortably converting from in front of the posts.

The Chiefs weren’t in front for long though as Northampton skipper Dickson touched down for the Saints in the corner against the run of play.

Slade missed his kick for touch and a breathtaking counterattack from Ben Foden led to Northampton going through the phases before Dickson scored down the blindside from close range – JJ Hanrahan missed the conversion.

Northampton Saints, along with Wasps, share the accolade of being the best side in Aviva Premiership Rugby on current form, having picked up 24 league points from a possible 30 but they were unable to add to their lead on 18 minutes as Hanrahan pushed his long range penalty wide of the posts.

A host of handling errors littered the first-half as Exeter in particular struggled to get their attacking backs into the game – Chiefs boss Rob Baxter looked a frustrated spectator in the stands.   

The Chiefs' only defeat in their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters came at Leicester in round 15 but after conceding a try to Northampton on 34 minutes that impressive statistic was left hanging in the balance.

A flowing move, involving forwards and back, ended with Pisi touching down in the corner after an offload from flanker Jamie Gibson – Hanrahan added the extras to leave the score at 12-3.

Mike Haywood was sin-binned on 49 minutes for lying on the wrong side but Northampton Saints repelled the Chiefs five-metre line-out and cleared their lines.  

Exeter made their numerical advantage count on 52 minutes, sustained Chiefs pressure ended with winger Woodburn dotting down in the corner – Steenson failed to add the extras.  

Steenson reduced Northampton’s lead to just a solitary point as the Exeter No.10 successfully kicked a straightforward penalty in front of the posts on 57 minutes.

Exeter looked certain to score on 65 minutes but with the try-line gaping somehow Slade knocked the ball on with just a simple needed to put Woodburn away.  

The Chiefs were now camped on the Saints line and after a Northampton infringement, Steenson opted to go for goal and his penalty put Exeter ahead for the first time in the game 14-12 and just minutes later he repeated the trick.

Play-off chasing Northampton was left empty-handed as Steenson slotted over his fifth penalty of the afternoon on 79 minutes to leave the score at 20-12.  

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