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Joe Simmonds secures thrilling Exeter win over Saints

By PA
(Photo by PA)

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Joe Simmonds’ last-minute penalty ensured Exeter beat Northampton 34-31 in a thrilling match at Franklin’s Gardens to move into a Gallagher Premiership play-off spot.

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Simmonds’ exemplary goal-kicking was a feature of the match but once again Saints will rue their inability to finish games off as they looked in control when they led 28-17.

However, a yellow card for scrum-half Alex Mitchell ultimately proved decisive.

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Josh Hodge, Jack Yeandle, Dave Ewers and Olly Woodburn scored Exeter tries with Simmonds kicking two penalties and four conversions.

Northampton’ tries came from Matt Proctor, Tom Collins and Juarno Augustus. James Grayson kicked three penalties and two conversions with Piers Francis adding a penalty.

Exeter looked to have taken an eighth-minute lead when Tom O’Flaherty intercepted a pass from Fraser Dingwall to race 75 metres to touchdown but TMO replays ruled out the try for an earlier obstruction by Sam Maunder on Alex Coles.

Grayson kicked the resulting penalty but this was soon nullified by one from Simmonds.

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Saints full-back George Furbank then made his second break of the game to put the Exeter defence on the back foot but with the line beckoning, Proctor was unable to gather the scoring pass.

However, the hosts were able to keep up the pressure and a second penalty from Grayson gave them a 6-3 lead at the end of an evenly-contested first quarter.

Exeter were first on the try-scoring sheet when they moved the ball neatly along their three-quarter line to put Hodge in the clear and the full-back had an unopposed 45 metre run to the line.

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Simmonds nailed the touchline conversion before Saints scored their opening try.

A sharp break from Mitchell was the catalyst with Augustus up in support to send Proctor over.

Minutes later, the Chiefs were back in front when, after a succession of forward drives, Ewers rumbled over with the conversion from Simmonds giving them a 17-13 interval lead.

Within a minute of the restart, Saints regained the lead when Dingwall sailed past Simmonds to provide Collins with an easy run-in. Grayson converted before adding a simple penalty.

Exeter’s miserable start to the second half continued when they soon conceded a third try after a quickly taken tap-penalty saw Augustus cross.

Grayson missed a straightforward conversion but Saints dominated the third quarter to lead 28-17 at the end of it.

Chiefs’ Santiago Grondona appeared to have brought his side back into contention when he forced his way over but after a lengthy delay for TMO replays, the number eight was adjudged to have been held up.

However, the visitors were spurred on when first their opponents lost Mitchell to a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on before Yeandle reduced the arrears with a close-range try.

Mitchell was still absent when Exeter scored their bonus-point try as Woodburn collected a superbly judged cross-field kick from Simmonds before the outside-half knocked over another excellent touchline conversion.

Mitchell returned in time to see Francis bring the scores level with a long-range penalty but 14 points had been conceded in the scrum-half’s absence and Exeter made that period crucial when Simmonds landed the match-winner.

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