Harry Mallinder fired Northampton Saints to a 20-19 win over Exeter Chiefs as George North shone and Jim Mallinder’s men sealed a first home Aviva Premiership Rugby win of the season.
Rob Baxter watched his men surrender a 13-point lead after Gareth Steenson kicked two penalties and converted Olly Woodburn’s try before Saints came surging back.
But George North was once again the rallying point for Saints, stunning Chiefs with a try and a remarkable assist for Rory Hutchinson to steal a half-time 14-13 lead.
A tense second-half saw Steenson and Mallinder trade penalties before the youngster snatched victory with two minutes remaining.
A strong Chiefs start was rewarded when Steenson knocked over three points after Saints were penalised for collapsing a maul.
Baxter must have been purring after watching his side score the game’s first try with a wonderfully constructed first try.
After a period of sustained pressure, Steenson fed Ollie Devoto, the former Bath Rugby man taking the ball flat to the line and dropping in a pass to Henry Slade, who threw a perfect flat ball to Woodburn to finish one-handed in the corner, before Steenson converted.
Steenson struck his second penalty of the game when Northampton were penalised at the breakdown before the hosts sprung into life.
French No.8 Louis Picamoles could have clawed Saints back into it after he bust through several tackles only to throw a wayward pass.
Northampton were piling on the pressure and George Pisi found Picamoles with a cute offload , the back-rower shifting the ball for North to finish strongly – dragging two men over with him in the corner and Mallinder converted from the touchline.
British & Irish Lions winger North – phenomenal in defeat to Wasps last week – then, almost single-handedly, conjured one of the great Aviva Premiership tries.
Straight from the kick-off, North stepped through two tackles, before accelerating around a wide defender and heading inwards to support, finding Nic Groom with a perfectly-timed pass before Hutchinson raced home unchallenged under the posts for a converted try.
And it was Saints who finished the half stronger, buoyed by North’s brilliance, while Steenson missed a relatively kickable penalty for Exeter to give the hosts an unlikely 14-13 lead.
Both sides looked nervy after the break, and Steenson provided the first points from the tee – knocking over a penalty after Chiefs capitalised on Ben Foden’s slip.
Saints found themselves with large amounts of possession, but it was Steenson who kept the scoreboard ticking and turned the screw further in Chiefs favour with his fourth penalty of the evening on 66 minutes, taking him past 2,000 points for the Devon side.
Mallinder eventually got Northampton on the board in the second half with a penalty two minutes later.
And it was the English youngster who showed nerves of steel to crack the winning penalty with two minutes remaining.