Saints boss Jim Mallinder refused to use the absence of eight international players as an excuse after his side’s shock 24-18 defeat to Exeter on Friday night.
The Chiefs scored three first-half tries and survived a second-half fightback to claim their first Aviva Premiership victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saints were missing two injured international stars in Alex Corbisiero and George Pisi and six others who are playing for their country this weekend.
But they were able to field the likes of Calum Clark, Lee Dickson, Stephen Myler and Luther Burrell as they sought to cement their spot at the top of the table.
And Mallinder said: “We’ve got more internationals missing than Exeter have, but it’s something we’re used to and not something we’re going to make the excuses for.
“We’ve got a group of players, as we saw here in the second half, who can play good rugby and win games and we need to play for 80 minutes, not just 40.”
Exeter came with a game plan designed to frustrate Saints and they executed it superbly in a first half that saw a score from Luke Cowan-Dickie and two from Thomas Waldrom.
Mallinder’s men fought back with efforts from the impressive Tom Stephenson and Jamie Elliott, but they eventually fell just short.
“It wasn’t just the start,” said Mallinder, “it was the first half.
“From kick-off we conceded a really sloppy try, didn’t take the restart, got driven over from the maul, halfway through gave away an interception try.
“We talked about their linespeed during the week and we struggled with that.
“Just before half-time, they scored from a five-metre scrum and suddenly you got in three tries down and you’ve got an uphill battle.
“They came with a simple game plan and that was to kick the ball away and then take their opportunities and they did it very, very successfully.
“I know the crowd were getting very, very frustrated but there’s not a lot of options when they’ve got a good line and it is tricky out there.
“You can’t play too much with a wet ball. Some of our kicking wasn’t brilliant, but we tried to play the game in their half and we came back well in the second half.”