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Phil Dowson: Saints weren't their usual free-flowing selves in Exeter win

By PA
Jack Maunder of Exeter Chiefs is tackled by Aaron Hinkley (R) and George Furbank. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson felt his side had put in an untypical Saints performance as they registered a hard-fought 26-19 victory over Exeter at Franklin’s Gardens.

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In sticky conditions, Saints were not able to produce their customary free-flowing game and were outscored by three tries to two but Fin Smith’s impeccable goal-kicking proved the difference.

Smith kicked 16 points from four penalties and the two conversions from tries scored by Tommy Freeman.

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Joe Simmonds scored two tries for Exeter, with Ruben van Heerden grabbing the other and the former adding two conversions.

Dowson said: “There was very heavy dew and the conditions were wet underneath so the game was scrappy and we had to do a lot of ugly work.

“It was very tight for a long time and we showed great resilience at the end but the performance was gritty and not in any way typical Saints.

“In the opening 20 minutes they hemmed us in and put us under pressure and it certainly wasn’t a night to play an expansive game.”

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Young fly-half Smith produced a man-of-the-match performance which earned high praise from Dowson.

He said: “It feels like he’s been here for years as he has settled in so well.

“It was sad and traumatic what happened to him at Worcester but his kicking tonight was outstanding and he has the ability to manage the game very well by putting us in the right areas.”

Despite a third loss in succession and injuries to Olly Woodburn and Ian Whitten, Exeter head coach Ali Hepher was still upbeat.

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He said: “I was really pleased with the fight and attitude and to get a bonus point away at a tough place like Northampton is probably par for the course.

“We were on the receiving end of some tough penalty calls in the scrums but our young group made a few errors, which need tightening up.

“They learned some good lessons but we could have won the game when we took the lead in the second half but we immediately made an error to concede another score.

“Losing Olly and Ian with injuries has left us really short. Five weeks ago we had no players out but with international call-ups and now injuries, we are up against it.”

Exeter have revealed they are selling some of their non-rugby assets, for which members’ approval is needed at an EGM at Sandy Park on November 30.

The club need to sell the assets to ensure that Government loans taken out in the Covid period are able to be repaid as the income from normal trading is insufficient to do so.

Hepher said: “There is no need to panic as our directors are absolute quality and have proved that they are able to run the business.

“I am not able to comment on which assets are to be sold but these are tough times all over the world and I’m sure the directors will take whatever action is needed to ensure that the focus remains on the future of the rugby club.”

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