Exeter Chiefs 21 Northampton Saints 10: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Saints endured a tough day at Exeter (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints endured a tough day at Exeter (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

So as it transpired Sandy Park is not the place to go when you are seeking solace.

Who knew?

Saints, reeling after their humbling Champions Cup defeat at Clermont Auvergne, were left on the canvas by a Chiefs side who packed an almighty punch.

In the set piece, they were more muscular.

Around the park, they were more menacing.

And in the end, they more than merited their victory.

Saints had their chances in the first half, but after failing to take them, they left the door open for Exeter.

And the Chiefs waltzed through with alarming ease, comfortably pushing on to claim the victory in a superlative second-half showing.

They shoved Saints into offending, resulting in three yellow cards being shown to the men in lime and a penalty try going the way of the home side.

But this was not a day to point to finger at Wayne Barnes.

And Saints knew they had only themselves to blame for the defeat as they were pushed around like solitary dodgems surrounded by an army of them.

Exeter, who have still only lost at home twice this season, completed the double over Jim Mallinder’s men, having also won in Northampton back in November.

And there will be some soul-searching to be done at Franklin’s Gardens in the next two weeks as they bid to get back on track against Saracens on April 25.

Some fans are now doubting Saints’ credentials, worrying that recent poor performances are becoming a trend that will signal an end to the title bid.

But here some perspective must be applied.

Yes, Saints have not played well of late.

And, yes, there are plenty of questions to be answered in every position.

But, no, Saints’ title chances are not on the scrapheap.

They remain in pole position in the Aviva Premiership, with six points separating them from nearest rivals, Saracens and Bath.

And with London Welsh still to come at home, that is a sizeable gap, with only three games of the regular season to go.

Saints have still only lost four league games this season.

Lose to Saracens at stadium:mk and, yes, there will be anxiety over a top-two place, because you would expect Bath to breeze through their final fixtures.

But, for now, it must be seen that Saints have endured two tough weeks against two sides no one wants to play against.

Especially not on their own turf.

Saints will rebuild and, you would hope, come back stronger.

It is said that you learn more from losing than winning and what Saints will have learned from losing is that it is much better to be winning.

It sounds simplistic, but they can use the despair felt in France and the far west of England as fuel for the fire.

Jim Mallinder said as much after the game on Sunday, revealing it was a pensive dressing room, with a sombre atmosphere.

That quiet reflection will grow louder as the countdown to the Saracens battle continues, but for now Saints need a rest from fretting about what may or may not be.

They need to get their minds and their acts together for a final push.

Because they don’t want to be ending up at any fortress other than Franklin’s Gardens in the play-off semi-finals.

But having overcome a blip last season to claim the title, it would still be a brave man to bet against them repeating the trick this time round.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

Scored a superb try, showing strength and balance, but had a more difficult day defensively as Chiefs flew at Saints from all angles... 6

KEN PISI

Not the best of afternoons for a player who has been superb this season. He had a tough time at both ends of the pitch... 4

GEORGE PISI

Tried to inject some power into Saints’ attacking play, but Exeter were quick to shut the door in his face... 5

LUTHER BURRELL

His raw power did at least make Exeter think a couple of times and he also made a couple of important tackles... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Grabbed a late try for Saints and always tried to make something happen from deep, but he was simply swallowed up on many occasions... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

The fly-half enjoyed a memorable day at Sandy Park last season as he landed the winning points, but this was a day to forget as he failed to land a kick and was sin-binned... 4

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Tried to get some tempo in the game, but some of his team-mates weren’t on the same wavelength on a couple of occasions... 5

ALEX CORBISIERO

The England and Lions loosehead endured a really difficult day at the scrum as opposite number Tomas Francis got the upperhand... 4

DYLAN HARTLEY

The skipper gave everything for his side, but the set piece did not function as he would have expected it to... 5

GARETH DENMAN

A tough game to come into the team for as the fired-up Chiefs bossed the set piece and gave the Saints front row a torrid time... 5

SAMU MANOA

Just isn’t as effective at lock and could do with being moved back to No.8, where his talent appears to surface more... 5

CHRISTIAN DAY

So often a steadying influence, he tried to push Saints forward, but they were overwhelmed by Exeter’s physicality... 5

TOM WOOD

Always throws everything he has at games, but it wasn’t enough on this occasion as Saints struggled in the second half... 6

CALUM CLARK

Looked shattered after this game as he put his body on the line throughout, but suffered a sin-binning for his troubles... 6

SAM DICKINSON

Had a huge influence towards the end of last season, but hasn’t been able to get games by the scruff of the neck of late... 5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ALEX WALLER (for Corbisiero 47)

Not a cameo he will want to look back on as Francis put the squeeze on and he was sent to the sin bin... 4

TOM MERCEY (for Denman 47)

Was brought on as Saints sought to turn the tide at the scrum, but they couldn’t do it and this man was left frustrated... 5

JON FISHER (for Dickinson 55)

Added a bit of energy to proceedings and will be hoping to get some starts in the coming weeks... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 55)

Made a couple of decent tackles and enjoyed some front foot ball late on as Saints tried to get back in the game... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Tomas Francis (Exeter)