Northampton Saints ended 2018 in fine style with an outstanding bonus-point victory over top-of-the-table Exeter Chiefs in front of a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens.
Four tries from man of the match Cobus Reinach, Piers Francis, Fraser Dingwall and a first in Saints colours for Dan Biggar did the job in a tight affair – with the Chiefs earning themselves two bonus-points with a try on the final play of the game.
Saints made their opportunities count in front of a home crowd at fever pitch, with Biggar’s second-half penalty proving the difference and moving the men in Black, Green and Gold up into the Gallagher Premiership play-off places.
💬 “That’s why you want to play this game and play for this Club. It’s a special feeling when this place is full, so thanks to the supporters for getting behind us.”@lutherburrell hailed the Gardens faithful in our @facebook live chat pic.twitter.com/qGAsFnj3no— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) December 28, 2018
Northampton couldn’t have asked for a better start as they scored inside the first two minutes; a wonderful break from Tom Collins left the Chiefs scattered and a superb offload from Biggar to Francis saw the latter under the posts.
Saints kept up their relentless pressure and it paid off when Biggar scored his first Club try after well-worked phase play wore the visitors down for him to stretch for the line under the posts and double the lead to 14-0 in less than ten minutes.
Exeter looked to retaliate quickly, and O’Flaherty’s break down the left flank was stunted when a long pass landed in the hands of Courtney Lawes.
Saints’ forwards put in a big shift inside their 22, but Ian Tempest blew for a penalty try with Exeter’s set piece turning the screw.
Chiefs crossed in the corner for a second through winger Santiago Cordero just minutes later, and Exeter pulled the game level with an impressive conversion from Gareth Steenson.
But Northampton turned the momentum back their way as they scored from a scrum – Fraser Dingwall doing the honours under the sticks. Saints beat their rivals to the ball with an impressive shove, splitting their opponents for another score.
The Gardens crowd held its breath as Tempest went upstairs for a look at Joe Simmonds’ potential score, but Jamie Gibson and Dingwall saved the day and held the ball up on their own line, bringing a chaotic first half to a close.
Exeter levelled shortly after the interval however as Ben Moon grabbed the sixth try of the evening to bring the scores to 21-21.
Despite intense pressure from the Chiefs, Saints dug in and hit them for a fourth as Reinach repeated his trick from last week and scored another sensational interception try – with a big run from his own half that secured a crucial bonus point.
Luke Cowan-Dickie picked up the evening’s second yellow card for a tip-tackle on Lawes, leading to a successful Biggar penalty (the first of the night) to go ten points clear with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Exeter were looking dangerous, but the Saints defence was exceptional in the closing minutes.
The clock ran down and despite a last Exeter score through Matt Kvesic with the time in the red, Northampton emerged 31-28 winners to move up to fourth in the Gallagher Premiership, with a trip to the Ricoh Arena to face Wasps the first assignment of 2019.