Sizzling Saints secure excellent bonus-point win against Exeter Chiefs
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The Chiefs came to town having thrashed Saracens and Sale, with their previous week's victory against Bristol Bears ensuring they started the weekend top of the Gallagher Premiership table.
But Saints delivered a brilliant display from start to finish as they secured the full five points with easily their most comprehensive performance of the embryonic league campaign.
Tries from Tommy Freeman and Curtis Langdon put them in control, and Saints kept their foot on the gas in the second period, scoring twice more, through Alex Mitchell and skipper Fraser Dingwall.
Exeter were hit by a red card for replacement scrum-half Niall Armstrong, whose boot connected with the face of Fin Smith during the second half.
The game was largely over by then but Armstrong's absence did mean the door was open for Dingwall to bag the bonus-point try to ensure a maximum haul for Saints.
The black, green and gold had looked fired up from the start as Tom Seabrook went speeding forward on the left before he was stopped at the last.
However, the home side recycled the ball, moving it from left to right, where Smith was waiting to deliver a tidy grubber kick for Freeman to gather and score.
Smith superbly bent the conversion inside the right post, making it the ideal start for his side.
Saints had a chance to add to their lead when Exeter were caught offside close to halfway, but Smith's ambitious penalty attempt came back off the left post.
Saints were continuining to apply pressure but Exeter were ferocious at the breakdown, stopping the home side in their tracks at every turn.
Finally, George Hendy managed to break free, causing chaos after gathering a kick, forcing Exeter to infringe again, allowing Smith to extend the lead with the penalty.
Saints were winning plenty of penalties from the opposition, and after Exeter were punished again, Smith sent the kick right into the corner.
The home forwards went to work, pushing forward, resulting in hooker Langdon cleverly scoring in the corner.
Smith converted brilliantly again, and it was 17-0 with 22 minutes played.
Exeter had struggled to get any change from Saints, but when the home side started to concede penalties, the away team profited.
Exeter worked their way downfield and after wave of wave of pressure, they eventually forced their way over in the corner, with Jacques Vermeulen the man to score.
Henry Slade narrowly missed the conversion but his side were growing into the game as half-time approached.
Saints had the chance to stretch their lead as they applied pressure at the start of the second period, but they turned down a shot at goal and lost the resulting lineout.
Saints did opt to kick soon after though, winning a penalty at the first scrum at which Exeter's fresh front row had participated.
Saints went to their bench after Smith landed the three points, and replacement Alex Coles made an instant impact, offloading brilliantly before a flowing move resulted in Mitchell, in his first game back from World Cup duty, scoring.
Smith converted to make it 27-5 and Saints thought they had their bonus-point try when Mitchell's superb long pass found Freeman, who dived over.
But it was ruled out for a high clear-out from Ethan Waller in the build-up and Exeter escaped.
The away side made the most of their reprieve with 15 minutes to go as they won a penalty at the scrum before applying the squeeze in the home 22, Scott Sio rumbling over.
Slade converted and the gap was 15 points as Exeter sensed a path back into the game.
But the away side were down to 14 men when replacement scrum-half Armstrong was sent off as he went up for a high ball and put his boot full in the face of the onrushing Smith.
Saints were eager to take advantage, and they did so after Seabrook's fine kick put Exeter under real pressure.
A five-metre scrum was won, and replacement Tom James used it to send the flying Dingwall over under the posts.
Smith converted and there was a jubilant mood at the Gardens as the home fans savoured what was a sizzling performance from their side.
Exeter did get a score back before the end as Ethan Roots powered over, with Slade converting.
But it wasn’t to matter as Saints celebrated a fine win ahead of next Saturday’s derby-day clash with Leicester Tigers at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Saints: Hendy; Freeman, Dingwall (c), Hutchinson (Litchfield 59), Seabrook (Sleightholme 74); F Smith, Mitchell (James 62); A Waller (E Waller 52), Langdon (S Matavesi 52), Hill (Davison 52); Moon, Munga (Coles 52); Lawes (Pearson 65), Scott-Young, Graham.
Exeter Chiefs: Wyatt; Feyi-Waboso, Slade, Hawkins (Hendrickson 69), Hammersley; Skinner (Haydon-Wood 59), Cairns (Armstrong 58); Abuladze (Sio 49), Frost (Yeandle 49), Iosefa-Scott (Painter 49); Jenkins (c), Pearson (Tuima 62); Roots, Vermeulen, Vintcent (Davis 58).
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys