Northampton 31-18 Exeter: Saints stun Chiefs
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 28/12/18 11:02pm
Northampton produced their best performance of the season to shock Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter with a 31-28 win in front of a sell-out crowd at Franklin's Gardens.
Dan Biggar scored 16 of their points with a try, a penalty and four conversions with further tries coming from Cobus Reinach, Fraser Dingwall and Piers Francis to secure a bonus point.
Santiago Cordero, Matt Kvesic and Ben Moon scored Exeter's tries with Gareth Steenson converting all three. There was also a penalty try award but despite their pack dominating large periods, they came away with just their two bonus points.
Dylan Hartley was a late withdrawal for Saints, having failed to recover from a knee injury but they overcame this setback to take the lead with a brilliant third-minute try.
A superb run from Tom Collins saw him elude Elvis Taione to split the Chiefs' defence before the wing handed on to Biggar, whose pass sent Francis racing over.
Minutes later, Francis was forced the leave the field in agony with a serious shoulder injury but despite this huge blow, Saints maintained their impressive start to score a second try when Biggar finished off a period of sustained pressure.
A 50-metre burst from Tom O'Flaherty enabled Exeter to gain a platform in the opposition 22 and after declining a number of kickable penalties, they got onto the scoreboard with a penalty try after Saints had repeatedly infringed at a succession of five-metre scrums.
The Northampton front row continued to take a battering in the scrum to concede further penalties and it came as no surprise when the visitors scored their second try as Cordero outflanked the cover to score.
Steenson's excellent touchline conversion brought the scores level at 14-14 after an enthralling first half hour before Saints regained the lead when Dingwall, the replacement for Francis, stepped inside Ian Whitten to score.
Another scrum offence saw Northampton's captain, Alex Waller, sent to the sin-bin and Exeter looked to have capitalised when Ollie Devoto appeared to have forced his way over but the TMO ruled that the Exeter centre had been held up.
After the restart and before Waller could return, Exeter drew level when Moon rewarded further pressure from his pack by scoring their third try.
With 52 minutes gone Saints changed both props in an effort to stem the opposition scrum onslaught with Exeter responding by replacing their front row to introduce internationals Tomas Francis and Alec Hepburn.
Jonny Hill and Henry Slade were further introductions for Exeter with both returning after spells on the injured list and they were on in time to see Reinach intercept Nic White's pass and run 45 metres to score.
Luke Cowan-Dickie was then yellow carded for a tip tackle on Courtney Lawes with Biggar knocking over the resulting penalty, which proved just enough for Saints to stay ahead despite Kvesic's last-minute try.