Saints stage late comeback to go top

January 7, 2024 6:30 am

[Source: BBC]

Rory Hutchinson’s last-minute try helped Northampton win a thriller at Exeter to go top of the Premiership.

Exeter had led 26-0 but yellow cards either side of the break helped Saints recover to become the first winners at Sandy Park since October 2022.

Ollie Sleightholme scored a hat-trick for the visitors, but his efforts looked in vain when Rus Tuima went over with eight minutes to go.

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But Saints won a late line-out and a few phases later Hutchinson went over.

The win moves Northampton three points above Harlequins, who beat Newcastle on Friday, while Exeter stay third despite earning two bonus points.

The thought of Saints winning the game had seemed a far-fetched dream after the hosts made a superb start to the game.

Jacques Vermeulen went over at the start and end of a four-try spell in the opening 25 minutes, which could have seen Exeter score more but for some dogged defending on their own line by Saints.

The in-form Emmanuel Feyi-Waboso scored the pick of Exeter’s early tries as he flew into the right corner after Henry Slade won a turnover and Harvey Skinner sent a great bouncing pass to the winger – who is on the radar of both England and Wales.

Saints finally got into Exeter’s 22 for the first time after 25 minutes, and five minutes later they were over, having seen Dafydd Jenkins sin-binned for a head-to-head hit with George Furbank.

With the extra man scrum-half Calum Braley snuck in from close range and, two minutes later, they got a second as Furbank’s excellent crossfield kick set Tom Litchfield away on a three-on-one break down the left wing and he fed Sleightholme, who coasted in under the posts.

Exeter saw Slade sin-binned six minutes into the second period after replays showed he elbowed Northampton’s Burger Odendaal in the head, giving further confidence to their opponents.

Saints seized the momentum as Furbank went in against 14 men, and a minute after it returning to 15-a-side Alex Mitchell’s superb dummy saw him break from halfway before sending Sleightholme over for his second to put Saints two points up.

Slade kicked a penalty to put Exeter a point in front after Ross Vintcent had had a try disallowed for the hosts, but soon after Furbank and Mitchell combined to set up Sleightholme’s third to put Phil Dowson’s side 35-29 up with 15 minutes left.

But the game took a further twist when Tuima broke through to score what appeared to be an Exeter winner, only for Saints themselves to go on and win it.

It the final minute they won a line-out deep in Exeter territory and, a few phases later, were camped on the Chiefs line, and with the hosts’ defence narrow Mitchell flung the ball out to the unmarked Hutchinson who dotted down to win a thriller.