Hartley leads from front as Saints hold off late Exeter surge

STAR MAN - Dylan Hartley scraps it out with Exeter at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday (picture: Linda Dawson)
STAR MAN - Dylan Hartley scraps it out with Exeter at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday (picture: Linda Dawson)

SKIPPER Dylan Hartley led from the front as Saints escaped from a sticky situation to beat Exeter 24-21 and pick up a bonus point at Franklin’s Gardens.

Hartley scored his side’s crucial fourth try to seal a maximum five points, but that outcome had looked a long way off when the Chiefs led 13-12 and were a man up at the break.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Gerrit-Jan van Velze saw yellow a minute before the interval for a spear tackle on Will Chudley and Ignacio Mieres booted Exeter in front.

The fly-half put them four points up early in the second half but tries from home debutant Luther Burrell and man of the match Hartley secured the win for Saints, despite a late Exeter rally which saw Matt Jess bring them back to within three points at the end.

Jim Mallinder’s men had led 12-0 at one stage during the first half thanks to tries from Christian Day and Phil Dowson.

But Ryan Lamb was failing to add much to the score with the boot and Exeter recovered well to go in ahead at half-time thanks to a try from Phil Dollman and eight points from Mieres.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Saints weren’t to be beaten, though, and after Burrell went over, Hartley registered what proved to be the match-winning score.

It was the second win in as many Premiership games this season after the gritty 24-19 win at Gloucester eight days previous.

Mallinder named an unchanged starting 15 from the win at Kingsholm, meaning there were home debuts from the start for Ken Pisi, Dom Waldouck and van Velze.

Saints started in slick fashion in their first game, but Exeter were a different proposition, having opened with an impressive victory of their own, beating Sale Sharks 43-6 at Sandy Park.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Pictures by Linda Dawson

And the Chiefs’ belief was illustrated as they pushed into Saints territory early on, giving as good as they got at scrum time.

But the home side, just as they were at Kingsholm, were strong in the lineout drive and they earned a penalty on eight minutes.

Ryan Lamb shanked the kick, though, scuffing it wide of the upright as Exeter breathed a sigh of relief.

The away side then had a penalty shot of their own, after good work from Jess, but Mieres, just like his opposite number, sent the ball left of the posts.

Pictures by Linda Dawson

Pictures by Linda Dawson

The next few minutes were almost exclusively played in the Chiefs half as Saints started to squeeze their opposition.

The pressure told on 17 minutes as Ben Foden made a brilliant break from full-back and handed the ball to Vasily Artemyev, who gave Day the simple task of touching down.

Lamb missed the conversion, though, his second failed kick in as many attempts early on.

Exeter were still looking strong in the scrum and they forced Saints into conceding another penalty. But again Mieres missed the chance to put his side on the board.

Saints made him pay moments later as they scored a superbly worked try. Dowson was on the end of a slick move, which encompassed great play from Lamb and Hartley.

This time Lamb did get the kick spot on, but Exeter were straight back on the attack.

And the Chiefs finally got on the scoreboard as Josh Tatupu evaded Artemyev on the wing and sent Dollman over, despite the best efforts of the chasing Tom Wood.

Mieres cut the gap to five points and it was down to just two not long after as the kicker again found the target, this time with a penalty in front of the posts.

It was all starting to go wrong for Saints and they were reduced to 14 men a minute before the break as van Velze saw yellow for the tackle on Chudley.

It was the South African’s second sin-binning in as many games in the green, black and gold since joining from Blue Bulls in the summer.

And it was to cost Saints dear as Mieres put the Chiefs a point in front before the half-time whistle sounded.

The second half began with rising frustration among the home crowd, who were becoming increasingly unhappy with the display of whistler JP Doyle.

The feelings towards the referee reached fever pitch on 51 minutes as he awarded another contentious Exeter penalty at the ruck, and it was again kicked by Mieres.

Saints had a four-point deficit to make up and they did so quickly as they released Burrell and the centre powered through the Exeter line to dive over.

But Stephen Myler, on for Lamb, who won’t remember the game too fondly, added to the list of missed kicks from the home side as he fired the conversion wide.

However, he made amends on 63 minutes, adding the extras to a try from captain Hartley, who made it two tries in two Premiership games after some quick thinking at a lineout.

That secured the bonus point for Saints and, crucially, put them eight points clear of Exeter.

Myler still had time to complete a miserable day for the home fly-halves, sending a penalty wide of the upright.

Rhys Oakley was sin-binned three minutes before the end and Exeter may have punished Saints as Jess dived over but Gareth Steenson missed the conversion and the home side held out for victory.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi (Burrell 35), Waldouck, Artemyev; Lamb (Myler 50), Dickson (Roberts 74); Tonga’uiha (Waller 66), Hartley (Haywood 74), Mujati (Mercey 63), Manoa, Day (Sorenson 66), Dowson, Wood, van Velze (Oakley 61)

Exeter: Arscott; Tatupu (Naqelevuki 49), Whitten, Dollman, Jess; Mieres (Steenson 77), Chudley (Barrett 61); Sturgess (Moon 63), Whitehead (Alcott 66), Mitchell (Budgen 77), Hayes, Muldowney (Hanks 30), Johnson, Scaysbrook, Baxter (Phillips 59)

Referee: JP Doyle

Attendance: 12,230