In a day Rory Hutchinson, and indeed all 14,000 Saints fans that were at Franklin’s Gardens, will never forget, Saints scoop their first home win of the season in a thriller of a game against Exeter Chiefs.
A tightly contested battle between the two sides, a level-headed Harry Mallinder sealed the win for the home side, knocking over possibly the most important penalty of his career so far.
It was to be Saints’ guests that got themselves on the scoreboard first. Just minutes after Gareth Steenson sent a penalty through the posts, Chiefs were camped out in Saints 22. Some clever hands from the visitors saw Olly Woodburn over in the corner. Steenson converted to take Chiefs two scores ahead.
Exeter stretched their lead to 13 points moments later as Steenson sent another place kick through the posts and the game looked to be going in Exeter’s favour, the home side’s attack sadly lacking.
Spurred on by a rapturous home crowd, it was not long before the home side were on the front foot and got their first points on the board.
Louis Picamoles broke through Exeter’s line and made a dash for the line before offloading to Nic Groom. Groom sent the ball to Ken Pisi who got over the line but the referee Matthew Carley deemed the pass to have gone forwards.
Saints continued to push and a full team effort sent George North over under the posts for Saints’ first score.
Not a minute after Harry Mallinder had sent the conversion through, Saints were over the tryline again.
North made a huge run up the left touchline from within his own 22 and the ball went through Groom to find debutant Hutchinson with space in front of him to score under the posts in his first ever Aviva Premiership game. Mallinder sent the conversion through the posts to give his side a narrow one-point lead.
Malinder nearly stretched his side’s lead with a huge drop goal attempted but sent his kick just shy of the left upright from 45 metres out just before half-time.
Exeter came out firing again after the break and Steenson sent another penalty through the posts on 54 minutes.
Saints tried to push their guests but another Steenson penalty sent Chiefs even further ahead. Mallinder clawed back the deficit somewhat a few minutes later with a penalty of his own.
Saints pushed their guests to the limit and their efforts paid off in the 78th minute. A mammoth effort from the forwards at the breakdown earned Saints a penalty within Mallinder’s reach. The 20-year-old was mature beyond his years as he kept a cool head and sent his kick cleanly through the posts to seal the first home victory of the season for Saints.
It was up the jumper time for Saints with less than two minutes left on the clock. The home side’s careful play kept the possession with them and after the Saints supporters had counted down the clock, a joyous Picamoles sent the ball high into the stands.
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Hutchinson, North, Mallinder, Groom; Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Paterson, Gibson, Clark, Picamoles
Subs – Clare, Ma’afu, Hill, Dickinson, Harrison, Kessell, Olver, Tuala
EXETER Turner; Woodburn, Devoto, Slade, Whitten, Steenson, Chudley; Moon, Yeandle, Holmes, Lees, Parling, Dennis, Hortsmann, Waldrom
Subs – Cowan-Dickie, Hepburn, Williams, Welch, White, Lewis, Hill, Nowell
7mins EXETER Pen Steenson 0-3
10mins EXETER Try Woodburn Con Steenson 0-10
16mins EXETER Pen Steenson 0-13
23mins SAINTS Try North Con Mallinder 7-13
26mins SAINTS Try Hutchinson Con Mallinder 14-13
HALF-TIME Saints 14 Exeter 13
54mins EXETER Pen Steenson 14-16
57mins EXETER Pen Steenson 14-19
68mins SAINTS Pen Mallinder 17-19
78mins SAINTS Pen Mallinder 20-19
FULL TIME Saints 20 Exeter 19