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Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 36 Northampton Saints 12

29 Apr 2017
Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 36 Northampton Saints 12

Exeter Chiefs became the first Aviva Premiership Rugby side to secure seven straight bonus-point wins with their biggest ever victory against Northampton Saints.

The visitors struck first, but they spent much of the first half on the defensive and it seemed inevitable that Exeter would hit back.

And they hit hard, with Don Armand and Olly Woodburn going over before the break, to give Rob Baxter’s side a half-time lead.

In the second period, they were as equally intense as Ian Whitten and the busy Jack Nowell crossed, killing any hopes of a Saints fightback – before Sam Hill and a second from Woodburn added gloss to the result.

Exeter’s backs have been flying in recent weeks but Baxter was without both Jack Maunder and Henry Slade.

However, Lions winger Nowell was back in the team along with centre Whitten.

Northampton were also forced into changes with Louis Picamoles and Stephen Myler both forced out, with Teimana Harrison and JJ Hanrahan starting.

Exeter began on the front foot, running with purpose and creating space as they pulled the Saints left and right.

But they were undone when a loose pass was thrown from left to right and Saints fly-half Hanrahan spotted an opportunity, intercepting the ball to score the opening try.

And it got worse for Exeter minutes later when prop Greg Holmes limped off injured, followed in quick succession by flanker Dave Ewers – while Northampton lost Courtney Lawes.

After a lull in the game as things calmed down following a frantic opening, Exeter thought they hit back shortly after the half-hour mark as Nowell dived in at the corner.

But replays showed he lost the ball just as he went to dot down, and the Saints were handed a reprieve.

However, Exeter’s hard graft off as Armand powered over from close range – as their forwards got to work with a series of carries.

That re-instilled them with confidence, and they looked set to add a second in the left corner but the Saints were penalised when the ball was deliberately knocked on by Ken Pisi – with Woodburn waiting.

But the winger only had to wait a matter of seconds, as the Chiefs worked it well from a line-out and Woodburn scored his ninth try of the season from Stu Townsend’s pass.

And after the break, Exeter stretched their advantage with a third try as Whitten ghosted through.

Sensing a bonus point and a place at the top of the table, Exeter piled forward and Northampton struggled to contain them.

The Chiefs sent on scrum-half Will Chudley for his first appearance since early January, as they tried to unpick Northampton.

And his impact was almost immediate as a Chudley kick landed perfectly for the chasing Woodburn, but full-back Ben Foden just got across in the time.

Northampton showed plenty of spirit as they continued to repel Exeter’s attack, with Harry Mallinder stealing the ball when Exeter’s forwards looked set to score.

But Exeter were just too good going forward, and Nowell crossed for his 18th Aviva Premiership Rugby try.

Northampton stabilised as they utilised their replacement bench, but Hill came off the bench to score a fifth try for the Chiefs with 11 minutes left, while Nowell set up Woodburn for his second shortly after – before Ahsee Tuala grabbed a consolation for the Saints at the death.

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