Exeter Chiefs 35 Northampton Saints 12: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

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"We know the absolute minimum standard of what we need in order to be able to compete down at Exeter otherwise we are going to get a hiding."

Those were the words of Saints boss Phil Dowson in the build-up to Saturday's clash with the Chiefs at Sandy Park.

But, sadly, they were not heeded.

Saints did exactly what Dowson didn't want them to do: they let their levels slip and they paid the price in the form of the 'hiding' that they were warned of.

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Matt Proctor scored for Saints during the second halfMatt Proctor scored for Saints during the second half
Matt Proctor scored for Saints during the second half

This showing was chalk and cheese when compared to the 46-17 win against Harlequins six days earlier.

Saints could not deliver the same kind of physicality as they yet again produced an error-strewn, ill-disciplined away-day display.

They missed key men such as David Ribbans, Courtney Lawes and Juarno Augustus.

And they came up against an Exeter side who were hurting after their 35-3 humbling at Saracens, and who were able to call on England stars such as Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds.

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As for Saints, this is a team who continue to make far too many errors and give away far too many penalties when the pressure comes on away from home.

And they continue to pay a heavy price.

They have still won just once on the road in the league this season, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat after shipping 36 points at Wasps back in early October.

But that win counted for nothing after the Coventry-based club went into administration.

Saints have lost all six of their other Gallagher Premiership games on the road.

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And the performance at Exeter was more of the same as they were suffocated and then struck by blow after blow, some of which were again self-inflicted.

Against Quins on the previous weekend, they completely exposed a side who had played just five days earlier, smothering them all over the field.

But at Sandy Park, they were given a bitter taste of their own medicine.

Saints couldn't get far enough up the pitch in the first half to get anywhere close to that level of dominance.

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On the very rate occasion they did get into the home 22, they let Exeter out far too easily, failing with two lineouts.

It was all too easy for the hosts as they made the most of the stream of penalties that came their way, showing just how lethal they can be when they get deep into the opposition 22.

In fact, had Exeter’s lineout been more reliable, they could have been much further ahead than the 21-0 lead they held at half-time.

They played the conditions far better and Saints found themselves submerged.

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While Exeter are ruthless from five metres out, Saints struggle to defend from there without giving away penalty after penalty.

And if you can't soak up that kind of pressure away from home, you find yourself staring down the barrel very early on.

In the second half, Saints finally got some momentum, pulling a try back through Fraser Dingwall.

But then a passage of play occurred that summed up their away-day struggles this season.

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They overthrew a lineout in the Exeter 22, taking the heat off their hosts, and then threw an intercept pass in their own half to allow the Chiefs to go 35-7 up.

That was game over, if it wasn't already, and it sucked any remaining life out of the side.

Matt Proctor was able to add a second score with 14 minutes to play, but Saints rarely looked threatening after that as they tried to take something from the game.

It was to be another costly away defeat despite the fact they enjoyed impressive dominance in the scrum.

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But when one thing goes right, so often other things go wrong.

And Dowson admitted it was 'back to the drawing board' after the game.

The problem is, whatever Saints try, they just can't seem to get the away wins they need in the league this season.

Game after game, they are hit by setback after setback.

And it is so hard to take for a club that, over the years, has made a habit of upsetting the odds on the road.

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You think back to Ulster in 2012, Saracens and Leinster in 2013, and many other occasions since then where Saints have gritted their teeth and taken down established hosts.

In fact, they had won on their past two trips to Exeter.

But the substance shown in those kind of successes just doesn't seem to be there so far this season.

And it is making for some really difficult days and some really disappointing defeats.

From Bath, to Gloucester, to Exeter, and a few others, Saints are not finding the recipe for success on their travels.

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It is leaving the players and coaches to come out and repeat the same words so often. That will hurt them as much as it hurts fans to hear it.

And unless they find the solution soon, the top-four finish they crave will slip from their grasp.

How they rated…

TOMMY FREEMAN - a difficult day for the full-back as Exeter pressured Saints high up the field, trapping this man on a couple of occasions. He was forced off early in the second half... 4.5

COURTNALL SKOSAN – had a big impact off the bench against Harlequins, but one strong early run aside, he wasn't really able to get in the game here... 5

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MATT PROCTOR – didn't really have an influence until he delivered a fine finish during the second half... 5.5

FRASER DINGWALL – etched his name on the scoresheet but was stopped from having an influence otherwise as Exeter got to him quickly... 5.5

JAMES RAMM - shone against Harlequins six days earlier but could get little going here as Exeter smothered Saints... 5

GEORGE FURBANK – didn't do much wrong but it's tough to pull the strings when you don’t get enough possession in dangerous areas... 6

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ALEX MITCHELL - made one brilliant burst that almost brought a try and provided a fine pass for Dingwall's score, but this was a tough afternoon for the scrum-half overall, who understandably looked tired at times... 4.5

ALEX WALLER – Saints couldn't have asked for too much more from the prop as he won his scrum battle during a lengthy showing that saw him have to come back on... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD – saw the lineout malfunction on a few occasions in Exeter territory, and it proved costly, but he was determined in open play and at scrum time... 5.5

PAUL HILL – put a huge amount of effort in and tried to get hold of the ball to carry the fight while also doing some damage at scrum time... 6

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ALEX COLES – a decent enough return from injury, which included a fine offload for Proctor's try, but a couple of other attempts didn't quite come off... 6

ALEX MOON - a big shift from the lock in a losing cause as he racked up a massive amount of tackles and tried everything he could to combat the Exeter pack... 6

LUKHAN SALAKAIA-LOTO - must have had a sore body on Sunday morning as he powered into collision after collision with little reward... 6

ANGUS SCOTT-YOUNG – delivered a strong showing six days earlier but wasn't really able to have an influence on this game... 5

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LEWIS LUDLAM - the skipper rarely deserves to be on the losing side as he continually puts his body on the line in attack and defence... 6.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

RORY HUTCHINSON (for Skosan 47) – showed off his tidy footwork on a couple of occasions, causing problems for Exeter, but Saints couldn't get back in the game... 6

TOM COLLINS (for Freeman 55) – got some rare game time and looked eager to make something happen, but Exeter shut the door... 5.5

ROBBIE SMITH (for Haywood 57) – did little wrong after coming on as he produced a steady enough showing, but the game had gone... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Sam Simmonds (Exeter)