No Christmas cheer for Saints as Chiefs show class at Gardens

Jamie Gibson was in action for Saints (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Jamie Gibson was in action for Saints (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints failed to provide Christmas cheer for the majority of a sold-out Franklin's Gardens as Exeter Chiefs claimed a 35-14 win.

Ahsee Tuala's try had hauled Saints back into the game after Exeter had taken an early 8-0 lead, but the Chiefs showed their class as they pulled away during the second period.

Rob Baxter's men, who currently sit top of the Aviva Premiership tree, ramped up the misery for their hosts late on, condemning Saints to an 11th defeat in their past 12 matches in all competitions.

The green, black and gold are still without a director of rugby and have lost both matches since Jim Mallinder's departure.

They will head to Twickenham to face Harlequins next weekend having suffered six successive league defeats.

And they remain in need of a catalyst to turn their season around.

They had hoped to get it against Exeter, but the Chiefs applied some relentless early pressure, with fly-half Gareth Steenson eventually putting his team ahead with a penalty.

Saints responded with an attack that was orchestrated by full-back Harry Mallinder, who was posing problems for the opposition with his speed across the ground.

The home fans were really backing their side, but the atmosphere was punctured by a piece of individual brilliance from Will Chudley, who chipped ahead and picked up to score.

Steenson missed the conversion, but Exeter held an 8-0 advantage inside the opening 15 minutes.

Mallinder made a last-ditch tackle to deny winger Olly Woodburn out wide before the Saints full-back got a let-off as he dropped the ball and Ian Whitten's kick ahead was too powerful.

Saints needed a lift and they got it when all-action Rob Horne picked up the ball, sped past his man and offloaded at the perfect moment for Tuala to score out wide.

Piers Francis kicked the conversion, cutting the deficit to just a single point with 20 entertaining minutes having elapsed.

Exeter picked up another three points via the boot of Steenson on the half-hour mark after Henry Slade kicked a penalty to the corner and the Chiefs cranked up the heat.

Saints did have some good territory before the break, but they spurned a couple of attacking lineouts and dropped the ball after setting up an attack from the scrum.

Exeter extended their lead early in the second half, with Steenson notching another penalty.

The Chiefs were stopping Saints' momentum by constantly disrupting the home side's lineout, which wasn't providing the platform it was expected to.

Ben Foden was sin-binned 12 minutes into the second half and Exeter went for the corner, pursuing the score that would give them real breathing space.

And they eventually got it as a dominant lineout drive gave No.8 Sam Simmonds the chance to pounce.

Steenson added the extras to make it 21-7 with 20 minutes remaining and Saints had a mountain to scale.

Exeter refused to relent and no sooner had Foden returned to the field to bring Saints back up to 15 than prop Francois van Wyk was sin-binned for his side's constant infringements at the scrum.

The Chiefs were winning penalty after penalty in that area, prompting cries of 'you don't know what you're doing' from the home fans at Franklin's Gardens.

And it wasn't long before the boos rang out as Thomas Waldrom made the most of his side's dominance with the inevitable try.

Fans started to flood out of the Gardens with their team now staring at another big defeat.

Cobus Reinach did grab a consolation try before the end, diving in under the posts, with Francis converting to cut the gap to 14 points.

But there was no chance of a late losing bonus point as Exeter pushed on and made sure they picked up a maximum haul thanks to Jack Yeandle's last-gasp score.

Saints: Mallinder (Pisi 74); Tuala, Horne, Burrell (Stephenson 74), Foden; Francis, Groom (Reinach 62); Ma'afu (Van Wyk 65), Hartley (c) (Haywood 57), Ford-Robinson (Hill 57); Paterson (Wood 57), Ratuniyarawa (Ribbans 65); Lawes, Gibson, Harrison.

Exeter Chiefs: Slade; Nowell, Whitten (Short 62), S Hill, Woodburn; Steenson (c) (J Simmonds 74), Chudley (Townsend 61); Moon (Rimmer 64), Cowan-Dickie (Yeandle 62), Williams (Holmes 64); Skinner, J Hill; Ewers (Lees 60), Armand, S Simmonds (Waldrom 65).

Referee: Thomas Foley

Attendance: 15,120

Piers Francis was on kicking duty at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens

Piers Francis was on kicking duty at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens

Teimana Harrison tried to get Saints on the front foot

Teimana Harrison tried to get Saints on the front foot

Harry Mallinder was in the thick of the action early on

Harry Mallinder was in the thick of the action early on