Northampton Saints made it a hat-trick of Gallagher Premiership victories with a thrilling bonus-point win over Exeter Chiefs at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
The men in Black, Green and Gold flew out of the blocks to open a 17-point lead with Tommy Freeman and Curtis Langdon scoring tries that were both converted by Fin Smith, who also added a penalty. Exeter responded before half-time with Jacques Vermeulen’s unconverted effort from close range.
Smith added a second penalty in the second period before Alex Mitchell and Fraser Dingwall tries secured maximum points for Phil Dowson’s side either side of Niall Armstrong’s red card and Chiefs grabbed a third try through Ethan Roots.
Saints wasted no time getting themselves on the score sheet; the home side were almost over in the game’s opening minute through Tom Seabrook out wide on the left and though he came up short, Mitchell sent the ball the other way at pace before Smith sent a deft grubber through that landed perfectly for Freeman to finish in the other corner – the score being the winger’s 28th Premiership try at the age of just 22.
Smith added the conversion and though he sent a long-range penalty into the left upright shortly after, when Chiefs were penalised in the midfield, the fly-half sent a second effort through the uprights to put Saints 10-0 up after 17 minutes.
Saints stayed in the ascendency and after Chiefs were found offside, an attacking line-out saw them driving the maul towards the tryline and Langdon dotting down at the base of it.
Chiefs got themselves onto the scoreboard on the half-hour mark, pushing from close range before eventually sending Vermeulen over in the corner to make it 17-5 – with the scoreline remaining that way as Mitchell booted the ball into the stands to end the half.
The sides exchanged blows on the restart but neither could make it through the opposition’s defence until Smith send a penalty kick through the uprights to put Saints 15-points ahead.
And that lead became a 22 points in the next as Alex Coles broke through Chiefs’ line and got a superb offload away, with the ball going through the hands of Sam Matavesi and Freeman before the pass came inside to Mitchell to finish under the posts.
Saints thought they’d secured the bonus point through Freeman out wide only for a trip to the TMO to chalk the effort off. And Chiefs pounced on the momentum, pushing themselves close before Sio crashed over from close range.
Slade’s conversion made it 27-12 and Exeter found themselves down to 14 men for the remainder, as Armstrong was shown a red card for making contact with Smith’s face with his boot.
And Saints made the most of their extra man to wrap the try bonus point up quickly, with Dingwall charging through off the back of a scrum to dive under the posts.
The last scoring action came from the visitors as Ethan Roots rumbled over but the day was undoubtedly Saints’ – who march into next weekend’s East Midlands derby fourth in the Gallagher Premiership table.
SAINTS: 15 Hendy, 14 Freeman, 13 Dingwall (c), 12 Hutchinson, 11 Seabrook, 10 F Smith, 9 Mitchell; 1 A Waller, 2 Langdon, 3 Hill, 4 Moon, 5 Munga, 6 Lawes, 7 Scott-Young, 8 Graham.
Replacements: 16 S Matavesi, 17 E Waller, 18 Davison, 19 Coles, 20 T Pearson, 21 James, 22 Litchfield, 23 Sleightholme
CHIEFS: 15 Wyatt, 14 Feyi-Waboso, 13 Slade, 12 Hawkins, 11 Hammersley, 10 Skinner, 9 Cairns; 1 Abuladze, 2 Frost, 3 Iosefa-Scott, 4 Jenkins, 5 L Pearson, 6 Roots, 7 Vermeulen, 8 Vintcent.
Replacements: 16 Yeandle, 17 Sio, 18 Painter, 19 Tuima, 20 Davis, 21 Armstrong, 22 Haydon-Wood, 23 Hendrickson.