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Northampton stun champions Exeter to claim first Sandy Park win in seven years

By PA

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Northampton stunned Gallagher Premiership champions Exeter at Sandy Park after Piers Francis kicked two second-half penalties to secure a 13-12 victory. It was the Saints’ first win on Exeter soil for seven years and they richly deserved to claim one of their most impressive triumphs under rugby director Chris Boyd.

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But the game ended in dramatic fashion after Exeter lock Sam Skinner scored an 80th-minute try. Joe Simmonds had a chance to win it with the resulting touchline conversion attempt, only for Northampton players to attempt a charge-down and Simmonds was sufficiently distracted to not even make contact between boot and ball.

Exeter players complained to referee Christophe Ridley after he blew the final whistle, but it was to no avail and Northampton celebrated. No8 Shaun Adendorff scored an early try for the visitors, which Francis converted, but Exeter could only muster a Jack Yeandle touchdown in reply, converted by Harvey Skinner, until Sam Skinner struck.

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Scotland captain Stuart Hogg returned from Six Nations duty and started for Exeter, while Josh Hodge moved to the wing instead of Alex Cuthbert and Skinner replaced fly-half Simmonds, who was among the substitutes. Northampton boss Boyd made five changes, including only a third start of his professional career at fly-half for George Furbank, with wing Matt Proctor and full-back Ahsee Tuala also among Saints’ call-ups.

Referee Ridley awarded numerous penalties during the early exchanges, and testing conditions – driving rain and a gusting wind – did not enhance the spectacle. Furbank’s first contribution was an impressive one, finding touch just five metres out and giving his team a platform to score the game’s opening try.

Saints won the subsequent lineout, drove Exeter backwards, and South African Adendorff touched down for his fourth try in the last three games, with Francis’ conversion making it 7-0 after eleven minutes. It was an impressive effort by Northampton as they enjoyed scrum dominance in the opening quarter, rocking Exeter back on their heels.

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And even when the Chiefs attempted their destructive close-quarter approach deep inside the opposition 22, Saints defended brilliantly for several phases before gaining a scrum put-in after Exeter knocked on. Chiefs flanker Dave Ewers went desperately close to an equalising try, but he was held up over Saints’ line, which underlined the quality of Northampton’s defensive organisation.

But Exeter kept banging at the door and it eventually came down when Yeandle scampered over from five metres out and Skinner’s conversion levelled things up. Exeter pressed for another try just before the interval and Saints were forced into some frantic clearance work to deny Chiefs centre Ollie Devoto as he chased a loose ball that had nestled behind Northampton’s line.

The opening half ended all-square with Northampton not budging an inch as they went in search of a rare success on Exeter soil. Chiefs began the second period with the wind against them but they quickly exerted sustained pressure and Saints lost Furbank to the sin-bin for a technical infringement.

Hogg became increasingly influential as Exeter looked to exploit their temporary one-man advantage, but it was also a case of staying patient in a contest high on attrition and littered with mistakes. The game remained level entering the closing quarter, and although Northampton had been dominated in terms of the territorial battle, they could still sense a famous win.

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Francis missed a chance to put the visitors ahead 15 minutes from time when his 35-metre penalty hit the post, but Northampton had found renewed momentum and Exeter were defensively stretched. And Francis made no mistake four minutes later, finding the target following an illegal challenge by Ewers, and the Chiefs had it all to do.

Francis then kicked another penalty, and there seemed no way back for the Chiefs until Skinner struck and Simmonds was denied a conversion chance.

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Northampton stun champions Exeter to claim first Sandy Park win in seven years

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