After eight months of hard graft the business end to the season always provides unrelenting drama, excitement and this match did not disappoint. Exeter Chiefs looking very impressive on a thirteen match unbeaten run that has included six successive bonus points victories, unbeaten at home for eight matches and sitting comfortably on the second spot in the premiership table. Their opponents Northampton Saints were reeling from three successive defeats all of which they were leading with less than three minutes to go, would missing four key men prove too much? One can never write off such a star studded under achieving side.
The sunny conditions with a strong wind at Sandy Park provided a backdrop for some entertaining rugby. A bright start to the match was made by Exeter compiling a multiple phase passage of play, only for the ball to be stolen by Northampton’s Teimana Harrison at the breakdown fortunately it amounted to nothing as Harry Mallinder kicked the ball out on the full. They were not as fortunate with the following play as disaster struck when Ollly Devoto rushed a pass midfield allowing JJ Hanrahan to intercept and score under the posts. Things went from bad to worse as they lost flanker Dave Ewers and Prop Greg Holmes in quick succession to injuries.
The pace seemed to drop after such a frenetic start and there was a lull in the match, Jack Nowell livened things up with an exceptional finish over the try line. Match referee JP Doyle referred it to the television match official and the replays showed Nowell losing the ball as he tried to place it. Exeter would not be denied as Don Armand powered from close range after good work from the Exeter forwards. This seemed to revitalise Exeter as Devoto powerfully beat Northampton defenders notably ex England international Luther Burrell, only to be wrongfully denied a scoring chance by Ken Pisi who deliberately knocked on the ball. With that happening it left referee Doyle no choice but to yellow card Pisi , immediately Exeter capitalised on this and Olly Woodburn a Sandy Park favourite to score on the short side. The half ended with an Exeter thirteen phase play coming to nought in contrast to being under pressure for most the half the Chiefs led at halftime.
The second half started with frenetic pace from the Exeter Chiefs as their backline executed a brilliant play that allowed centre Witten to ghost through a dog leg defence and score their third try. Northampton’s JJ Hanrahan tried to stem the tide with a break of his own but did not have enough support as his backline failed to function with Burrell not having the best of games. Jack Nowell was profligate as he made a hash of the final pass to Turner that allowed Saints Ben Foden to try and intercept. Exeter Chiefs Head Coach Rob Baxter sensed another bonus point victory and he sent on scrumhalf Will Chudley to unpick Northampton , his introduction was almost immediate as his threaded kick was nearly picked up by Woodburn only for Foden to get back across in time.
The defensive effort by Northampton seemed to be taking its toll on the players as they were unable to contain Exeter who piled on the pressure and somehow Luke Cowan Dickie managed to get stripped by Saints Mallinder with the try line begging. Jack Nowell would not be denied as he secured the bonus point try on his second attempt after replacement Estelle had seemed to have stopped him. With sixty one minutes on the clock Northampton had made 171 tackles which were causing them problems with their play build up as they barely went beyond three phases. After another patient build up Replacement Sam Hill burst through the saint’s backline scorching past Hanrahan and Foden making the score 27-7 with the conversion to come. They would score again four minutes later with yet another innovative and incisive play this time the ever impressive Woodburn getting his second of the match. Northampton would have the last say as fullback Ashee Tuala scored from a Burrell offload, muted celebrations from the Saint’s men probably a combination of exhaustion and dejection. Exeters Chief’s with a champion like performance display euphoric.