The summation was short and sweet.
“It was in the first half where the game was lost,” the director of rugby said. “They scored from the re-start, driving over from a maul. Then midway through first half we gave away an interception try. We’d talked about their line speed during the week, and struggled with that. Then just before half-time they scored from a five-metre scrum and we went in three scores down and then you’ve got an uphill battle.”
The capacity crowd had observed the pre-match Remembrance wreath laying in traditional silent style. But the sombre and thoughtful mood which accompanies this annual ceremony seemed to hang over into the action itself, and the Chiefs took immediate advantage, winning back the kick off and building the pressure until Luke Cowan-Dickie was driven over by a powerful maul.
If that was not bad enough for Saints, they also had the sight of Tom Collins hobbling off to be replaced by James Wilson. To be fair to the Kiwi, he had a solid all-round game, playing a crucial role in Tom Stephenson’s second half try, putting up some towering kicks and challenging intelligently and accurately in the air.
And Saints did shrug off that early setback, getting on the score board with a Stephen Myler penalty and calmly building pressure of their own.
Yes, the greasy ball may have been hitting the ground more regularly than usual, but a score seemed increasingly likely. Unfortunately it came to Exeter, for whom Thomas Waldrom popped up in midfield to intercept a pass and head 50 metres to the line, holding off a desperate final Lee Dickson tackle to slide over for the try.
Waldrom’s third was more straightforward, coming off the back of a five-metre scrum, and with Saints’ only reply coming from a second Myler penalty the game looked dead and buried at 6-21.
Exeter had taken three of their four chances, but while there were five tries and 42 points to entertain the 13,362 in attendance there was plenty of aerial bombardment sent up by both teams, too.
But while Mallinder acknowledged that some of the kicking out of hand was not as accurate as he’d have wanted, it was a bi-product both of the greasy conditions underfoot and Exeter’s own tactics.
“They came with a simple ball plan - to kick the ball and take their opportunities, and they did that very successfully,” he explained.
“I know the crowd was getting frustrated, but there’s not a lot you can do when you’re up against a good line. It was tricky out there; there’s not a lot you can do with a wet ball. But some of our kicking wasn’t brilliant. Generally we tried to play the ball in their half.”
Exeter may have been clinical in attack in the first half, but the play which probably ultimately won them the contest came at the other end of the field in the opening salvos after play resumed.
Saints showed their intent, kicking a penalty to the corner. But while the ball was won Cowan-Dickie made enough of a nuisance of himself to hold the ball in the maul and win a turnover. The Chiefs celebrated the scrum wildly, and given how the second half unfolded their reaction was justifiable.
The hosts’ first try, when it came, was worth waiting for, Wilson and Stephenson combining down the left-hand blindside for the centre to slide over for a deserved score.
Stephenson was elusive throughout, bouncing off Chiefs repeatedly and making metres when he really did not seem to have the right to do so.
Jamie Elliott, too, did not seem to have the space to finish off his own try. But the winger has a poacher’s instinct, and although Myler’s touchline conversion attempt was to be his only miss of the evening the game was now a one-score contest with 10 minutes to play.
But it was just not long enough, even if it did give Mallinder something positive to reflect on, adding: “We came back well though. I was pleased with how we came back into the game and score two good tries and put the pressure back on them.”
2mins EXE Try Cowan-Dickie Con Steenson 0-7
5mins SAINTS Pen Myler 3-7
15mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-7
29mins EXE Try Waldrom Con Steenson 6-14
37mins EXE Try Waldrom Con Steenson 6-21
HALF-TIME SAINTS 6 EXETER 21
54mins EXE Pen Steenson 6-24
57mins SAINTS Try Stephenson Con Myler 13-24
68mins SAINTS Try Elliott 18-24
FULL-TIME SAINTS 18 EXETER 24