Northampton Saints 20 Exeter Chiefs 19: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Louis Picamoles and Alex Waller put themselves about for Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Louis Picamoles and Alex Waller put themselves about for Saints (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

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At Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night, you saw exactly why clubs pay big bucks for big players.

In Louis Picamoles and George North, Saints have two of the biggest.

And the world stars came up trumps when their club needed it most.

After back-to-back defeats on home turf at the start of this season, Saints were under pressure.

But Picamoles and North have broad shoulders that can carry the weight of expectation.

And against Exeter, they picked Saints up and dragged them to victory.

However, this nail-biting win on a frenetic Friday, was not just made in France and Wales. It was made in Northampton, too.

Because what you also saw was the value of a productive academy system.

In Harry Mallinder, Saints have a nerveless youngster, who overcomes mistakes.

He refused to let a few wayward kicks from hand and groans from the crowd get the better of him.

Instead, he stepped up two minutes from time and brushed the inside of the right upright with a penalty that won Saints the match.

Pressure? What pressure?

He, like Scotland Under 20s centre Rory Hutchinson, who only found out he would be making his first Saints start an hour before kick-off, kept cool in the heat of battle.

And how proud the club and, in particular those people who have helped them progress to this level, will be.

At times, it almost felt like a Monday night Wanderers match, with passion-fuelled coaches Paul Diggin and Mark Hopley patrolling the sidelines and so many young guns on the pitch.

But, crucially, the Academy stars also had some star-dust sprinkled among them.

And the blend of Picamoles and North’s experience with the youthful exuberance of Mallinder and Hutchinson worked perfectly in the end.

Of course there is still plenty to work on.

Saints were sluggish to say the least in the first 15 minutes, falling 13-0 down before they eventually got their act together.

There were still chances that weren’t taken, but, to the delight of everyone of a Saints persuasion, this time Jim Mallinder’s men/boys took the one that mattered most.

They banished that Saracens anguish and Wasps woe to secure a first home league win of the season.

The roar that greeted Picamoles booting the ball out to end the game was one of sheer relief.

And Saints now have some momentum to take to Harlequins next Saturday.

They also have plenty of injuries, but there is no doubt there is faith in the players who will be asked to step in.

And if Saints can again get the balance right, there is every chance they can make it back-to-back wins for the first time in this campaign.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Found conditions a bit tricky at times, but this was a positive performance from the full-back as he carried the fight to the Chiefs... 7

KEN PISI

Did his best to keep Exeter on their toes and combined well with his brother in a strong display... 7

GEORGE PISI

Put himself about a lot, eventually being forced off with an injury, and a couple of his runs caused havoc in the away defence... 7

RORY HUTCHINSON

What a way to mark your first Saints start! The youngster showed great character and was on the end of a stunning move to register a try of the season contender... 8

GEORGE NORTH - CHRON STAR MAN

The Wales star was at his blistering best here, scoring Saints’ first try and setting up the second with a typically rambunctious run that cut Exeter to ribbons... 9

HARRY MALLINDER

A couple of kicks from hand went astray, but others were perfect and he was in fantastic form from the tee, landing the match-winning penalty... 8

NIC GROOM

The South African scrum-half looks razor-sharp and his kicking game constantly pinned Exeter back... 8

ALEX WALLER

A strong showing from the prop, who never hides from the battle, continually putting his body on the line... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

A typically good display from the hooker as he got around the field well and tried to get his team on the front foot... 7

KIERAN BROOKES

The prop has enjoyed a strong start to the season and he looked tough to handle once again here... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

This man is getting back to his best and he put in another big performance here as he took Exeter on at every opportunity... 8

MICHAEL PATERSON

A steady showing from the lock, who you feel is growing into the Saints setup after being hit with injuries last season... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Helped to disrupt the Exeter lineout and salvaged a few of Saints’ with his athleticism and nous... 7

CALUM CLARK

A strong return for the flanker, who played 57 minutes in his first Saints game since May 2015... 7

LOUIS PICAMOLES

It’s easy to run out of superlatives for this man, who is quite simply a man mountain with exceptional offloading abilities. A superb player who was fantastic again here... 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 56)

Was so keen to get onto the field that he put the man holding the tackle bag into the boards, and he was no less physical when he got on... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON (for Gibson 57)

Looked desperate to get involved and he was happy to charge at the Chiefs in a bid to push them back... 6