Dan Biggar's replacement shines as Saints sink Exeter
Superb kicking from Northampton’s young outside half Fin Smith condemned Exeter to a third league defeat on the trot as Saints recorded a 26-29 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.
Chiefs outscored their opponents by three tries to two but Smith’s impeccable efforts saw him succeed with four penalties and convert the two tries scored by Tommy Freeman.
Joe Simmonds scored two tries for Exeter, with Ruben van Heerden grabbing the other and the former adding two conversions.
Exeter were awarded an early kickable penalty but elected for more attacking options and were rewarded with the first try of the game.
From a close-range line-out, Chiefs set up a succession of forward drives which culminated in Van Heerden crashing over.
Simmonds converted as Exeter centre Ian Whitten left the field with a shoulder injury.
Saints then had their first chance for points and Smith made no mistake with a 45-metre penalty to leave the hosts trailing 7-3 at the end of an evenly contested first quarter.
On the half-hour mark, Northampton took the lead for the first time. Exeter full-back Josh Hodge lost possession on the halfway line and Saints capitalised from a kick-and-chase which resulted in a try for Freeman.
Smith fired over the touchline conversion but the home side suffered an injury blow when wing Ollie Sleightholme departed for a HIA to be replaced by George Furbank.
Northampton continued to have the better of the second quarter to lead 10-7 at the interval but both sides were guilty of forced handling and poor ball retention which resulted in a somewhat disjointed first half.
Four minutes after the restart the visitors suffered another setback when Smith kicked his second penalty before his side introduced scrum-half Alex Mitchell for his 100th appearance in Saints colours.
When Exeter were penalised at a scrum, Smith knocked over his third but Saints suffered a blow when their flanker Aaron Hinkley was yellow-carded for a high challenge on Jack Maunder.
Chiefs soon took advantage to score their second try when Simmonds was provided with an easy run-in after his forwards had paved the way with a number of powerful surges.
Simmonds soon added a second but this time he had more to do as the outside half took advantage of a charge down to race 45 metres to score.
Hinkley returned from the sin bin in time to see Smith kick a fourth penalty and bring the scores level at 19-19.
With nine minutes remaining, Saints regained the lead when they surprisingly turned down a chance for Smith to kick a fifth and were rewarded when Mitchell’s pass gave Freeman the chance to outflank the cover defence and score, with Smith converting superbly from the touchline to seal victory.
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