Match Report: Northampton Saints 34 – 19 Exeter Chiefs

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Exeter Chiefs had a tough day at the office as form on the road continues to allude Rob Baxter’s side as small errors and margins hampered them against a strong, in-form Northampton Saints side.

Following a pre-kick off ceremony to mark Remembrance Sunday, both teams were firmly in game-mode, unfortunately Chiefs’ search for form on the road to claim their first away points this season continues after a tough afternoon at Cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints were the first on the board as they looked to prove this was their ground and the day was not going to be an easy one for Chiefs. Saints moved fast off a first lineout of the day in the Chiefs 22 and Fraser Dingwall found clean air to run into, bringing Tom Seabrook into the play on the far wing.

Recycling in deep Exeter territory, S15 dinked an unclean kick through for Tommy Freeman to run onto over the line for the opening score of the day which Finn Smith converted.

Chiefs looked slightly overzealous to make up for the opening minutes as they strayed offside just inside their own half. Smith went for the posts option but the ball came off the right upright, dropping into the arms of Lewis Pearson stood beneath the uprights.

Danger loomed when Saints looked for another break on the wing as ten minutes played ticked in but the timely work of Dan Frost at the breakdown was enough to strip ball and thwart the imminent threat in his own 22.

Fantastic work from Jacques Vermeulen and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso at the counter ruck secured the Chiefs ball and a chip kick gained the territory into the Saints’ half, giving the Exeter men a platform to build from at the set piece. A charged-down kick on Tom Cairns put Saints on to the counter-attack option and left Chiefs scrambling to re-set their defensive structure.

Smith topped up Saints’ score with a penalty just shy of the end of the first quarter as Chiefs were penalised for at the breakdown.

Saints were biting in their use of a penalty advantage at the 21 minute mark. Putting the ball deep into the corner, the white shirts of Chiefs swarmed the breakdown but Saints – with Curtis Langdon marshalling the rear of the driving maul – used their momentum to trundle over the line for their hooker to secure the score. Smith added the conversion extras.

Chiefs got their first real taste of the Northampton 22 shortly following but handling errors hampered their forward momentum and the home side were gifted the scrum put-in – having won 100% of their own-fed scrums so far this season. They kept that record a little longer as Chiefs were called to have pre-engaged and Saints were able to run the danger out of their territory.

Chiefs worked with some territory on a half-hour played as Harvey Skinner kicked them into contention for a lineout well into the Saints’ half. Contact on Ethan Roots in the air allowed Chiefs to go again with another set-piece, this time on the five metre line. Chiefs played with ball in hand from the ruck when a high tackle on Joe Hawkins allowed them to go to the corner for a second time.

Countless painfully crushing tackles and recycles later – including a tap-and-go for a Saints infringement on the line – and Vermeulen bullied his way over for the Chiefs maiden points. The conversion attempt from Henry Slade just curved wide of the uprights.

As the rain began to pelt down onto the turf closing in on half-time, both sides looked for any extra points they could squeeze out of the first half, but the scoreboard was to remain the same as the sides ran into half-time with Saints in the lead.

Half-time: Saints 17 – 5 Chiefs

Saints kicked the second half off in much the same manner as they had the first – on the ball, on the attack and deep into Chiefs territory on the hunt for points. Chiefs held to their guns and ultimately received a penalty for Saints not releasing at the breakdown which allowed Skinner to clear play into the opposition half.

Chiefs brought on fresh legs in the 48th minute as the whole front row made way for their replacements. Unfortunately, just two minutes later, former Northampton-man Ehren Painter was penalised at the scrum set and Smith called for a shot at goal which he secured.

Minutes later, new on the field, S19 used his big giraffe-like sidestep to break the line with ball in hand. The ball went through the hands from Matavesi to Freeman, back inside to Alex Mitchell for the score which Smith once more converted.

Chiefs were pushed back onto their own half just short of 60 minutes played. A miscommunication at the lineout saw Yeandle’s throw fly over the set piece and Saints dived onto it. Recycling ball in the 22, Freeman thought he was in for a second try in the far corner before play was called back by the TMO for a high tackle penalty against [E Waller?]

After a couple of off-calls, Yeandle and Roots connected well at a lineout in the Chiefs 22 on 63 minutes. Chiefs battered their way into contention for a score before Sio drove the legs to crash over for a try. Slade then added the extras for Chiefs.

There was a tense couple of minutes wait on 68 minutes as referee Craig Maxwell-Keys and his assistants consulted their TMO when Northampton’s Smith received an accidental foot to the face from Niall Armstrong as the replacement scrum half came down to ground from collecting a high ball. The Chiefs man was ultimately deemed to have acted recklessly by the referees who showed the youngster a red card.

Saints were ready to punish the 14-man Chiefs as they launched a fresh attack with 10 minutes left in the game. Skinner received a grubber kick and attempted to run the danger clear but was tackled over his own try-line, giving Saints the five-metre scrum. Captain for the day, Fraser Dingwall, carved a clean line through the Chiefs defence, receiving the ball at the perfect moment to run in Saints’ bonus point beneath the sticks. Smith – bloody nose and all – then converted.

There was a glimmer of a chance of more points for the Chiefs with the game in it’s last five minutes. Mauling from the set piece, Vermeulen peeled off for the carry. With penalties coming, Chiefs had more hard work to put in. The determination in the end paid off as Roots crossed the whitewash for the score.

Unfortunately, Slade’s conversion wasn’t enough to bring the Chiefs men within range of a losing bonus point. And so, Chiefs will go back to the drawing board to look for the key element in securing a points result on the road this Gallagher Premiership season.

Full-time: Saints 34 – 19 Chiefs

Saints: G Hendy; T Freeman, F Dingwall (c), R Hutchinson, T Seabrook; F Smith, A Mitchell (James 61’); A Waller, C Langdon, P Hill, A Moon, C Munga, C Lawes, A Scott-Young, S Graham.

Tries: Freeman, Langdon, Mitchell, Dingwall Conversions: Smith 4 Penalties: Smith 2

Chiefs: T Wyatt; I Feyi-Waboso, H Slade, J Hawkins (Hendrickson 68’), B Hammersley (Haydon-Wood 57’); H Skinner, T Cairns (N Armstrong 57’); N Abuladze (Sio 48’), D Frost (Yeandle 48’), J Iosefa-Scott (Painter 48’), D Jenkins (c), L Pearson (Tuima 60’), E Roots, J Vermeulen, R Vintcent (Davis 57’).

Tries: Vermeulen, Sio, Roots Conversions: Slade 2

Red card: Armstrong

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

Attendance: 12,698

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