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Saints show character in first five pointer

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

It will be the last 10 minutes of the first half which will have been the centre of discussion in the bars, not least due to a series of refereeing decisions which had the fans in uproar.


First was a Saints ruck in front of the Tetley's Stand in which several Chiefs appeared to go straight over the top to win the ball back, a turnover compounded when wing Josh Tatupu sent Phil Dollman over for their team's first points.


Then there was a maul in the north west corner. Saints - who had been in top form in this aspect throughout the contest - had started another ominous roll, stopped by white shirts pulling it down, coming around the side and then over the top.


These two, and another breakdown on halfway similar to the first, were capped off when GJ Van Velze saw yellow for a tackle on Will Chudley which referee JP Doyle deemed late and dangerous, making a little bit of history by using the big screen to help make his decision.


When the whistle went for half-time Exeter had turned a 12-0 deficit into a 13-12 lead, Ignacio Mieres adding two penalties to his conversion of Dollman's try.


But to focus on those 10 minutes alone will not do justice to the Saints' overall performance. At times their attacking play was scintillating, no more so than in the build up to both of their first half tries.


Although it took nearly 20 minutes for the first score of the day the pressure had been mounting. Wings Vasily Artemyev and Ken Pisi were both left frustrated by final passes which they were unable to take on the end of a pair of moves, and Van Velze had a score chalked off following Pisi putting his foot on the touchline in the middle of a great move.


The try, when it came, was straight out of the top drawer. A poor Mieres clearance invited Ben Foden to show his counter-attacking skills. The full back cut through the defence and found Artemyev, and while the wing was pulled down a couple of metres short the support was there in force and Christian Day dived over.


The second try 10 minutes later was even better. This time the impetus came from Lamb, who cruised through the Exeter rush defence before sending Samu Manoa away down the right wing. Dylan Hartley and Phil Dowson combined beautifully in the middle, and when Artemyev again found himself on the receiving end of a tackle while heading for the whitewash Dowson was on hand to dive over from close range.


However this was as good as it got for the Saints in the first half, with Exeter getting their aforementioned try three minutes later. And when Mieres landed a third penalty 12 minutes after the resumption of play Saints had their backs against the wall.


The hosts needed something to go their way, and when Chudley kicked straight into touch they made the scrum-half pay in some style. Great hands put Pisi away down the right wing, and when the ball was zipped along the line Luther Burrell - who had come on as a first-half replacement for George Pisi - used his power and pace to score his maiden Saints try.


Now back in front and with the Gardens roaring them on, the Saints turned the heat up once again, forcing short clearance kicks and winning penalties. And when Stephen Myler sent one kick to the corner Saints used the platform to score the bonus point try, as Manoa won the setpiece, Rhys Oakley ripped the ball and sent Dylan Hartley crashing over.


It was no more than the Aviva man of the match deserved for his stunning performance, and with Myler landing the conversion Saints now found themselves two scores to the good with less than a quarter remaining.


There was still time for more drama, debutant Oakley seeing yellow and Matt Jess going over for a try 90 seconds from time which brought Exeter back within touching distance.


But if there were any nerves in the Saints' camp it didn't show, as they held out the Chiefs' last desperate attack - including several charges from perennial crowd favourite Chris Budgen - to make it two from two in Aviva Premiership Rugby.


TIMELINE

8mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

12mins EXETER Miss pen Mieres

17mins SAINTS Try Day 5-0

26mins EXETER Miss pen Mieres

27mins SAINTS Try Dowson Con Lamb 12-0

30mins EXETER Try Dollman Con Mieres 12-7

34mins SAINTS Miss DG Lamb

37mins EXETER Pen Mieres 12-10

38mins SAINTS Yellow card Van Velze

39mins EXETER Pen Mieres 12-13

HALF-TIME SAINTS 12 EXETER 13

52mins EXETER Pen Mieres 12-16

56mins SAINTS Try Burrell 17-16

63mins SAINTS Try Hartley Con Myler 24-16

74mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler

79mins EXETER Try Jess 24-21

FULL-TIME SAINTS 24 EXETER 21