Northampton 8-3 Exeter: Saints get season back on track with narrow win against the Chiefs
Exeter suffers Premiership defeat for the first time since the opening day of the season
Saints’ hooker Mike Hayward went over from a driving maul
The Chiefs failed to take a number of chances in the Saints 22
Just 11 points were scored as Northampton edged past Exeter 8-3 at Franklin’s Gardens in a forgettable first fixture of 2016.
Mike Haywood opened the scoring on 17 minutes for Northampton with the game’s only try. JJ Hanrahan failed to add the extras but soon clocked up a penalty on 31 minutes to make it 8-0
That left Saints eight points up at the break but a tepid encounter would follow as no further tries came to warm the New Year’s Day crowd.
Exeter did muster a late response as Gareth Steenson kicked a penalty on 73 minutes, but that was as far as their comeback came as Jimmies held on.
With the haze of New Year still lingering ahead of this 3pm kick off, much was expected as Exeter, the Premiership’s highest-scoring side this season, traveled to Northampton, last year’s minor premiers with a point to prove after four defeats from their first seven games.
However, it was clear from the off we were in for a tight battle as both sides looked to preserve their goal line.
Exeter had won their last four games against Saints, but it was the home side who were dominant in the first 40, spending much of it camped in the Chiefs half.
And ,after winning a penalty at the first scrum of the game, Northampton came close to registering the first points of the match as Hanrahan’s neat kick closely evaded George North.
Saints were firmly on top in the scrum and eventually benefited from their superior pack effort as they drove hooker Haywood, RUCK’s Man of the Match, over the line.
Hanrahan hit the post with his conversion attempt but the hosts went further ahead soon after as the uncapped Irishman hammered over his first penalty of the day with nine first-half minutes to play.
Exeter conceded a damning total of ten penalties in the first period and their discipline issues continued after the break as Thomas Waldrom was penalised within a minute of the restart, but Hanrahan failed to take advantage as his resulting penalty goal attempt flew wide.
Conditions worsened as the second half wore on and the frequency of errors increased with George Pisi’s monstrous hit on ex-Saint Will Hooley proving to be a highlight.
The young fly half, operating at full back in place of Phil Dollman for the final quarter, was visibly rocked by the tackle and proceeded to kick out on the full to put his side under immense pressure as the seconds ticked down.
But the underwhelming visitors were able to hold out to keep their hopes alive, and Steenson finally got Rob Baxter’s men on the scoreboard on 73 minutes with a long-range penalty
But it wasn’t enough to spark an unlikely turnaround as Saints clung on to their lead, a win which leaves them five points clear of sixth-placed Gloucester.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Northampton: Mike Haywood
In a game low on stellar quality, Saints’ Haywood stood out. His sparky play from hooker laid the platform for a dominant pack effort from the home side and he deservedly capped his afternoon’s work with a try.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden (c), 14 Tom Collins, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Christian Day, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Harry Mallinder.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Tom Johnson, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Short.
Date: Friday, January 1
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Stuart Terheege