Budgen takes role of Chiefs tormentor as Saints sweat

Northampton 27 Exeter 21

For "nearly" read "nowhere" in sport, but Exeter deserved great credit for how close they came yesterday to inflicting only a fourth home defeat on Northampton in three and a half years. A knock-on here or a missed tackle there in the final quarter might have completed a gigantic upset. The Chiefs played beautiful catch-up rugby during that period when the home side had a man in the sin-bin and – to judge by the way they had emptied their bench – one eye on the Heineken Cup.

Chris Budgen, the Exeter tighthead prop formerly of Saints' parish, had received a standing ovation while warming up but the home punters were not so sure about their old friend when Budgen burrowed over for the Chiefs' first try after 69 minutes. The Saints centre Jon Clarke had just been shown a yellow card for his team's persistent offside. Soon after, an agonisingly tiny fumble had cost Tom Johnson a try as he dived over the Northampton line, before the Exeter back-rower expertly fixed two Saints defenders to make a score at the corner for his full-back, Luke Arscott. It had all reduced Saints' lead from 18 to six and there was relief as they saw out the remaining three minutes for a win which kept them just behind London Irish at the top of the Premiership.

Not everyone was willing to hail the Chiefs. "Exeter came here with the intention of slowing things down," said Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby. "Every scrum, there was an injury, and it's an interesting way to do things, but they are probably pleased with the bonus point." Mallinder's Exeter counterpart Rob Baxter certainly was – but more so with the recovery from the previous week's 40-point hammering at Harlequins. "We're learning how to back ourselves," said Baxter. "Some teams have crumbled in the face of Northampton's scrum. We certainly didn't."

The Saints lost their unbeaten record this season at Saracens last week and they solved two potential worries for this match – the hit-and-miss goal-kicking of Shane Geraghty and the continued absence of Chris Ashton on the right wing – by unleashing two not-so-secret weapons in Bruce Reihana, with 629 kicking points in his Saints career, and Paul Diggin, who had 45 tries before yesterday. Reihana took the tee from Geraghty, who was said to have had a groin problem in midweek, to thump a penalty over from the 10-metre line after 10 minutes, and another from shorter range five minutes later, which took Reihana's career points total for Saints, including tries, past 1,000.

When Diggin battered past Haydn Thomas for a try at the right corner, converted by Reihana wide out, all appeared sweet for the Saints. Instead they had a rare old battle at the scrum and at the breakdown, and by half-time it was 16-9 after another penalty from Reihana and two for Steenson.

Exeter's debutant wing, Sireli Naqelevuki, had missed a fine chance very early on, when he scooped up a fumble between Reihana and Ben Foden but was quickly caught by Foden. Penalties by Reihana after 41 and 48 minutes moved Saints 13 points ahead for the second time and they succeeded where Exeter failed by executing a catch-and-drive try, finished by Tonga'uiha. But it needed Saints tackling of rare relish and power to hold Exeter's late surges, and keep Northampton thinking positively of Friday night's European meeting with Castres, for which Ashton should be fit from his foot injury.

Northampton Saints B Foden; B Reihana, J Clarke, J Downey (J Ansbro 51-56, 62), P Diggin; S Geraghty (S Myler, 56), L Dickson (R Powell, 70); S Tonga'uiha (R Dreyer, 64), B Sharman (A Long, 64), E Murray (B Mujati, 64), C Lawes (M Sorenson, 56), C Day, P Dowson (capt), R Wilson (M Easter, 62), C Clark.

Exeter Chiefs L Arscott; S Naqelevuki, P Dollman (R Davis, 70), B Rennie (M Jess, 63), M Foster; G Steenson, H Thomas (J Poluleuligaga, 22); B Sturgess, N Clark (S Alcott, 51), H Tui (C Budgen, 51), T Hayes (capt), J Hanks (D Gannon, 70), C Slade, T Johnson, J Scaysbrook.

Referee JP Doyle (London).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee