JIM MALLINDER labelled Dylan Hartley ‘world class’ after the Saints skipper drove his side to a bonus-point 24-21 victory against Exeter Chiefs.
Hartley was handed the man of the match champagne after he crowned a fine display with what proved to be the match-winning try at Franklin’s Gardens.
Exeter pushed Saints all the way, leading 13-12 at half-time and extending that gap to four points after the break, but scores from Luther Burrell and Hartley won it for the home side.
And Mallinder was full of praise for his skipper, who showed both steel and style in a superb showing.
“Dylan’s outstanding both on and off the field,” said Mallinder. “He leads for us off the field as well as on it.
“He enjoys that forward physicality but he’s also a hooker who can play as well. He knows when to pass the ball, he knows about spaces and I think he’s world class.”
Saints had led 12-0 midway through the first half as tries from Christian Day and Phil Dowson put them in the ascendancy.
But Phil Dollman brought the Chiefs back into the game and Ignacio Mieres’ boot ensured they went in ahead at half-time.
Saints were also hit by Gerrit-Jan van Velze’s sin-binning a minute before the break and Mallinder admits his side let Exeter back into the match.
“It was a good first 20 minutes,” said the Saints boss. “We got two tries and it could have possibly been a little bit more.
“But then we relaxed and when you relax against a side like Exeter you get punished. They came back, put us under pressure and scored some good tries.
“We kicked loosely to them and let them back in. When you go down to 14 men the pressure increases.
“What was impressive was the way we came back and kept our discipline in the first seven minutes of that second half and we gradually took a grip of the game, which was what we wanted.”