Powerhouse centre Luther Burrell scored his first Aviva Premiership try in Northampton colours as Saints withstood an impressive Exeter Chiefs comeback at Franklin’s Gardens to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season.
Burrell, 24, blasted his way over to restore the Saints’ lead after they had let an early 12-0 lead slip – the Chiefs storming back to take a 13-12 lead in at the half-time interval.
Dylan Hartley continued his early-season try-scoring form by barging his way over to give Northampton some second-half breathing space but a late try from Exeter’s Matt Jess gave the hosts a late scare.
Just as they were in the first half away at Gloucester Rugby last weekend, the Saints were dominant up from and on 17 minutes, Northampton’s pack had something to show for their efforts as lock Christian Day forced his way over.
Ryan Lamb missed the conversion but the Northampton faithful did not have to wait long before getting the chance to celebrate again, this time England back row Phil Dowson getting his name among the try-scorers.
And Lamb was successful from the tee to hand Saints a 12-0 lead as the hosts could already scent a second win in two Aviva Premiership matches, having triumphed 24-19 at Kingsholm on the opening day of the season.
But Exeter are not in the Heineken Cup this season by chance and the fighting spirit that served them so well last term reared its head again as they fought back to take the lead at half-time, scoring 13 points in as many minutes.
Firstly, flying back Phil Dollman got the Chiefs on the scoresheet, catching the Northampton defence cold and Argentine fly-half Ignacio Mieres added the extras to trim the gap to five.
That served to rattle Northampton and indiscipline crept in, conceding two penalties in kickable areas – and Mieres duly obliged, kicking the ball between the posts on 37 and 39 minutes – the latter after Saints’ South African back-row Gerrit-Jan van Velze was sent to the sin bin.
After the break Exeter were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage and once van Velze was back in the fray, Northampton were able to exert their influence up front and dominate possession again – although Mieres did extend the visitors’ advantage to four with a penalty.
And it took until just 53 minutes for first-half replacement Burrell to make an impact, surging through a gap in the Exeter defence to go over in the left-hand corner.
Stephen Myler, on for Lamb, missed the conversion but Saints did not let up and again their pack produced the goods, giving Hartley the chance to pounce and this time Myler made no mistake.
But again Exeter refused to lie down and when Jess cruised over in the corner in the final minute, Northampton led just 24-21. Gareth Steenson missed the hurried conversion but the Chiefs tried in vain to snatch an unlikely victory at the death, but they can could console themselves with a losing bonus point.