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Latest Cowan-Dickie injury takes gloss off impressive Exeter win

By PA
(Photo by PA)

Exeter bounced back from a five-try drubbing against Gallagher Premiership leaders Saracens last weekend as they swept Northampton aside 35-12 at Sandy Park. The Chiefs’ bonus-point success saw them climb three places to fifth after first-half tries from number eight Sam Simmonds, wing Olly Woodburn and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie put them in control.

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Cowan-Dickie added a second try after the break, although he then gave new England head coach Steve Borthwick an injury scare four weeks out from the Six Nations when he limped off after appearing to hurt his ankle. The hooker’s start versus Northampton was his first since a December 17 Heineken Champions Cup injury.

Centre Henry Slade also scored, while fly-half Joe Simmonds kicked five conversions, with Saints restricted to tries from Fraser Dingwall and Matt Proctor, plus a George Furbank conversion. An infinitely tougher test awaits Exeter in Pretoria next weekend when they resume Champions Cup action against the Bulls at altitude – with forecast temperatures of 30-plus degrees.

But they will travel to South Africa on Sunday after putting themselves just one point adrift of the top four and quickly erasing the Saracens result from their memory bank. Northampton, though, once again underlined a chronic lack of consistency, suffering a comprehensive reversal just six days after crushing Harlequins 46-17.

It was their fourth defeat from the last five games in all competitions and they must now regroup for fierce Champions Cup examinations against Munster and La Rochelle. Cowan-Dickie was among several players who returned to action for Exeter, being joined by the likes of lock Dafydd Jenkins and flanker Dave Ewers.

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Northampton, meanwhile, switched Furbank from full-back to fly-half instead of Fin Smith, who is progressing through return-to-play protocols after suffering a head knock against Quins last weekend, while wing Courtnall Skosan and hooker Mike Haywood also featured. Wet and blustery conditions did not hinder Exeter and they took a third-minute lead after a lineout drive ended with Sam Simmonds crossing wide and his brother Joe kicking the touchline conversion.

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Northampton could make little headway and they conceded a second Exeter try after 15 minutes when they were architects of their own downfall. Full-back Tommy Freeman made a costly attempt to run possession out of his own 22, Exeter stole possession and, after his opposite number Josh Hodge was held just short, Woodburn touched down, with Joe Simmonds again converting.

Woodburn celebrated scoring his 50th Premiership try and it was a dominant opening quarter from the Chiefs, with Saints having no answer to their forward power. Northampton fell further behind eleven minutes before half-time when another lineout drive put them in reverse gear and Cowan-Dickie claimed an Exeter try that Joe Simmonds converted.

Saints did not create a notable scoring opportunity during the first period and it already looked like damage limitation for them halfway through the contest as Exeter led 21-0. Matters did not improve after the break, though, as Cowan-Dickie pounced for his second try on 44 minutes, which confirmed an inevitable bonus point.

Saints boss Phil Dowson sent on Scotland international Rory Hutchinson and he was immediately involved in setting up a try for midfield partner Dingwall. But normal service was quickly resumed when Slade pounced for Exeter’s fifth try, intercepting Saints scrum-half Alex Mitchell’s pass before sprinting clear.

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Proctor finished impressively as Saints briefly rallied, but it was a day for Northampton to forget after they were dominated in every key area.

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