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Exeter suffer back-to-back defeats after home loss to dogged Northampton

·6-min read
Northampton's Ollie Sleightholme (centre) is tackled by Exeter Chiefs Joe Simmonds (centre right) and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (left) during the Gallagher Premiership match at Sandy Park, Exeter. - PA
Northampton's Ollie Sleightholme (centre) is tackled by Exeter Chiefs Joe Simmonds (centre right) and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (left) during the Gallagher Premiership match at Sandy Park, Exeter. - PA

Exeter Chiefs 24 Northampton Saints 26

Panic hasn’t set into the Exeter Chiefs coaching team just yet despite back-to-back Premiership defeats. 

Rob Baxter remains realistic about his team and their performances and actually pointed to an improvement from the opening day defeat at Leicester. But you know that when he talks about taking positives from getting more minutes into players, newcomers making debuts and youngsters getting chances that he is scraping he barrel. 

But the one thing he has never done is walked away from a challenge and he knows full well, as does everyone else in the Premiership, that when the cavalry returns the Chiefs will be back in the hunt for a seventh successive final at Twickenham. 

While that might seem a million miles away right now, with only Bristol Bears beneath them in the table, when you re-introduce into the mix five British & Irish Lions, a Scottish cap and a few other battle-hardened senior pros things can change pretty quickly. 

“If I was another coach, I would look at us as being very vulnerable. That’s what the results and performances are saying,” admitted Baxter.  

“We’re going to go to Sale without a hope of winning, aren’t we. That might be an interesting coaching position to be in and I am already looking forward to next week. 

“We are making too many errors, but don’t forget we've lost a game by two points to a team who won last week and should have come here with the ambition to win again. We’ve just got to put our heads down and work hard.  

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“We could very easily get ourselves on a roller-coaster here where we think everything is wrong when it’s not. There are bits for us to do and the most important thing for me is to see what is happening on the field.  

“That’s why I’m going to be careful what I say until I break down the game and really analyse it. We have to up the quality and quantity of what we are doing and that will add up to victories.  

“There is no rocket science to it, you win lots of little parts of the game and you win the game. Lose them and you lose it, so we’ve got to flip the balance in our favour.” 

In the meantime, coaches from other teams are going to take as much advantage as they can. Saints boss Chris Boyd was more than happy to take away four points, but realistic enough to know that it could have been a very different result against a full-strength Chiefs outfit. 

“I feel for Rob and his boys. It is a tough way to start a season with a number of players coming back from injury and others unavailable,” admitted Boyd.  

“But we’re still pleased to have come here and got the win. But you have to make the most of it and we’re pleased to have come here and got the wing, even though it wasn’t the perfect performance.” 

Where the Chiefs lacked was in their driving line-out exection, which is normally their trademark. Five times in the first half alone they failed to convert from their speciality piece, twice being turned over, once losing the throw and once conceding a drop out after everyone flopped over the Northampton line. On the other occasion they were held up, but got the penalty. 

A system error in the midfield defence allowed the Saints to get off to a flying start and make 60 metres from the kick-off. George Furbank bust through the centres, passed on to Dave Ribbans and fired the first shot across the home bows. 

Given what had happened the previous weekend the Chiefs were keen to make a good impression on home turf and two tries in two minutes got the fans back in the mood. Don Armand muscled his way over from a close range ruck at the posts and from the re-start a high speed break up the right touch line led to a kick ahead that Josh Hodge missed, but Jack Maunder touched down. 

Exeter Chief's Jack Maunder celebrates scoring their second try during the Gallagher Premiership match at Sandy Park, Exeter. - PA
Exeter Chief's Jack Maunder celebrates scoring their second try during the Gallagher Premiership match at Sandy Park, Exeter. - PA

With two conversions from Joe Simmonds it all seemed to be plain sailing for the Chiefs and a return to normality in their first game in front of their fans for 18 months at Sandy Park. Saints, however, had other ideas. The speed and ferocity of their defensive line caused all sorts of problems for their opponents and they were clever and pacy in attack. 

A kick and chase try, inspired by a James Grayson break, led to a try from Alex Mitchell and then Matt Proctor took full advantage of some reluctant tackling to cross for a second. Grayson converted both to level the scores in the 21st minute and then edged his side in front in the 32nd with a penalty. 

Saints then lost Fijian hooker Sam Matavesi on the stroke of half-time and before he had reached the touchline at half-way Rus Tuima had barged his way over for a try that restored the home side’s lead. 

Simmonds added the extras and then swapped second half penalties with Grayson as the game hung in the balance well past the hour mark. Simmonds was gifted another chance to shoot for goal from the 10 metre line moments after his success, but this time he fatally pushed his kick to the right of the posts. 

In the end it made a huge difference because it allowed Saints to remain in touch. With Grayson replaced, Furbank had to take over the goalkicking duties and he stepped up in every sense, kicking his two penalties to take the glory and secure the victory. 

Match details

Scoring sequence: Armand try (5-0, Simmonds con (7-0), Maunder try (12-0), Simmonds con (14-0), Mitchell try (14-5), Grayson con (14-7), Proctor try (14-12), Grayson con (14-14), Grayson pen (14-17), Tuima try (19-14), Simmonds con (21-17), Simmonds pen (24-17), Grayson pen (24-20), Furbank pen (24-23), Furbank pen (24-26) 

Exeter Chiefs: J Hodge; F Cordero, H Slade, O Devoto (I Whitten 63), T O’Flaherty; J Simmonds, J Maunder (S Hidalgo-Clyne 55); A Hepburn (B Moon 50), J Yeandle (captain, J Innard 55), H Williams (J Iosefa-Scott 62), W Witty (R McCauley 70), S Lonsdale, J Kirsten, D Armand, R Tuima (C Tshiunza 55) 

Rep unused: H Skinner 

Northampton Saints: G Furbank; O Sleightholme, M Proctor, F Dingwall, T Collins; J Grayson (T Freeman 63), A Mitchell (F Lomani 70); A Waller (N Auterac 52), S Matavesi (J Fish 70), E Painter (P Hill 41), D Ribbans, A Ratuniyarawa (A Moon 63), T Wood, L Ludlam (captain), T Harrison (J Fish 42-48, J Augustus 52) 

Rep unused: T Litchfield 

Referee: Christophe Ridley (RFU) 

Att: 9,843 

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