Northampton Saints 8 Exeter Chiefs 3: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Saints celebrated a vital victory against Exeter on New Year's Day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Saints celebrated a vital victory against Exeter on New Year's Day (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

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This match was dubbed the perfect New Year’s hangover cure.

It had all the hallmarks of a humdinger between two teams who are expected to be in and around the Aviva Premiership top four come the conclusion of the regular season.

But in the end, it was to lull onlookers into a sleepy state as the weather once again wreaked havoc and neither team was able to finish with a flourish.

For Saints that mattered not as they had done what they set out to do.

They desperately needed to start 2016 with a win, whether pretty or ugly.

Overall, it was pretty ugly, but once again their forwards had come to the fore, bossing a Chiefs pack who have pushed over some of Europe’s best this season.

The likes of Wasps and Clermont Auvergne have been cut apart by Rob Baxter’s side.

But Saints refused to go the same way as those teams, ensuring their fine defensive record was preserved.

While statistics have been used as a stick with which to beat Jim Mallinder’s men in an attacking sense, they can be used as solace when it comes to defending.

Saints have now gone three Franklin’s Gardens games without conceding a try.

That is a quite amazing achievement, especially when you consider they have faced some of the most potent attacking sides around.

Gloucester, Racing 92 and Exeter Chiefs all have backlines which are worthy of real respect.

But none of those sides have been able to breach the Northampton rearguard at the Gardens this season.

So while tries are not flowing as freely as the New Year’s Eve Champagne was, at the other end of the pitch Saints have a real platform on which to build.

And they will need that in the coming weeks, with games against Leicester, Glasgow, Scarlets and Wasps still to come before January is out.

But the key thing is that Saints have started 2016 with four precious points.

And there were some positive signs from their backs, with Tom Collins really catching the eye with some clever kicking and some rapid running.

The youngsters in the Saints team are really carrying the fight right now, with Teimana Harrison, Mike Haywood and Paul Hill the most impressive men on show against Exeter.

Saints will soon welcome a couple more established players back, with the likes of Tom Wood and Jon Fisher on the return trail.

And those men will have to fight for their places, with this forward pack currently performing so well.

Those are good options for Saints to have and they have once again shown an ability to fight back after a disappointing defeat, with this win coming after the shock loss at London Irish.

But as club captain Lee Dickson said earlier in the week - the team must stop making bouncing back a necessity.

They must go on a winning run.

And that is a pretty good New Year’s resolution.

They have kept it for a day. Now they will need every bit of willpower they have to keep it going at Welford Road next week.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Named skipper for the day and tried to make inroads on a difficult afternoon for the backs, but was shackled well by Exeter... 6

TOM COLLINS

A fine performance from the young wing, who followed up an impressive cameo with a display that included some clever kicking and some rapid breaks... 8

GEORGE PISI

Made some big hits, including one on former Saint Will Hooley. The Samoan epitomised Saints’ defensive desire... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

The powerhouse centre did his best to get in the game in attack, while defending strongly at the other end... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Still working so hard for the team, but things just didn’t break for him on a day when defences were on top... 6

JJ HANRAHAN

A mixed display from the Irishman, who kicked well from hand on a number of occasions and also landed a penalty, but was also left looking for options at other times... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Didn’t have enough time to make a big impact as he was forced off with a hamstring injury after just 25 minutes... 6

ALEX WALLER

Another good performance from the prop, whose consistency is astounding. He has not missed a Premiership game since 2011... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

An impressive try-scoring display from the hooker, who even put in a superb clearance kick. Only denied star man honours due to being replaced with 28 minutes to go... 8

PAUL HILL - CHRON STAR MAN

Really stamped his mark on this encounter, dominating in the scrum and carrying superbly as he stayed on for the full 80 minutes... 8

COURTNEY LAWES

A strong showing from the lofty lock, who carried the fight to the Chiefs and also wreaked havoc in the lineout... 7

VICTOR MATFIELD

Like Fotuali’i, he had to come off with just 25 minutes gone. Had looked typically assured up to that point... 6

JAMIE GIBSON

Once again, this man was so important in a dominant forward effort, and he defended superbly... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON

Has been brilliant since making his way into the team in early December and this was another strong performance... 8

SAM DICKINSON

Took Exeter on in a bid to gain Saints some ground and the opposition had to use all of their muscle to stop him... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

CHRISTIAN DAY (for Matfield 25)

A great man for Saints to be able to bring on, he directed the forward push well and helped his team keep their heads late on... 7

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 25)

Came on earlier than expected and did everything he could to make his mark, but a couple of kicks weren’t quite on the money... 6

DYLAN HARTLEY (for Haywood 52)

A really physical display from the hooker, who helped get his side over the line with a power-packed cameo... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON (for Harrison 52)

Never lets the team down and the lock’s experience was important late on as the Chiefs tried to summon a charge... 6