Northampton ease to opening day win over Exeter

Northampton 38 Exeter 11

Northampton showed their Aviva Premiership title credentials with a sparkling first-half display that saw them rattle up a bonus-point opening day win over Exeter.

All eyes were on big summer signing George North, but Saints' tries came from Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, George and Ken Pisi, and Samu Manoa, with Stephen Myler landing all five conversions and a penalty.

Exeter's lineout was poor and they squandered chances, replying only with a Dean Mumm try just before the hour mark and two Gareth Steenson penalties.

After a summer of soul-searching following his red card in the Premiership final that saw him banned from the British and Irish Lions tour Hartley started the new campaign determined to put things right.

In the second minute the 27-year-old, who offered to give up the Northampton captaincy only for director of rugby Jim Mallinder to persuade him to carry on, turned down an easy three points and when Luther Burrell threw a big miss-pass to the hooker he ignored Ken Pisi on his shoulder and hurtled to the line and just about squeezed over.

But with Brian Mujati and Paul Doran-Jones absent from Northampton's line-up, Exeter sensed a weakness up front and a rolling maul brought them under the posts where Phil Dowson dived on the ball to kill the move.

Referee JP Doyle gave the flanker a yellow card and Steenson took the three points.

Myler quickly cancelled that out and from the re-start the home crowd had their first sight of North. The Welshman put on the afterburners to sprint 40 metres out of his 22 and received rapturous applause after he was finally bundled into touch.

But it was his opposite wing Ken Pisi who scored 14-man Northampton's second try thanks to an overthrown Exeter lineout. Centre Burrell then burst through the white line before passing to the Samoan, who cut through one tackler before holding off another to score in the right corner.

The third try came four minutes later when Exeter full-back Phil Dollman failed to deal with a Ben Foden up-and-under. Foden kicked on, picked up the bouncing ball and offloaded to Wood to score.

Steenson added a second penalty, but four minutes before the break Saints grabbed the bonus-point try with a sweeping move from a quick lineout that caught Exeter napping.

North blasted down his wing before quick hands switched the ball to the right wing for George Pisi to touch down and Myler made it 31-6.

As Northampton eased up Exeter dominated the second half and were given a helping hand on 50 minutes when Saints were reduced to 14 men for a second time. After consulting the TMO Doyle gave Courtney Lawes a yellow card for a dangerous tackle with his shoulder on Matt Jess.

Scrum-half Haydn Thomas was held up over the line, but as soon as the home side were back to full strength Exeter skipper Mumm squirmed over from a scrum close to the line.

It served only to spark Northampton back into life and they added a fifth try through their forwards in the 72nd minute when Manoa was on the end of a lineout drive.

PA

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