Northampton back in Aviva Premiership title chase after beating Exeter
Mike Haywood scored the only try of the game as Northampton got their Aviva Premiership title challenge back on track by beating Exeter 8-3 i n front of a record Franklin's Gardens crowd of 15,430.
Rain turned the second half into a mistake-ridden affair, after Saints hooker Haywood had crossed 17 minutes into the contest, with JJ Hanrahan adding a first-half penalty.
Gareth Steenson registered three points for Exeter seven minutes from the end as the best attack in the Premiership created little of note, allowing Saints - showing six changes from their last outing - to climb up to fifth.
Exeter had won their last four games against the hosts, who had already lost four of their first seven matches - including a shock defeat at London Irish last time out.
However, the home side dominated the first half, spending much of it in Exeter's 22, though with the second worst attack in the Premiership they could not capitalise on it.
After winning a penalty at the first scrum, Northampton almost scored the first try in the seventh minute with a neat grubber from Hanrahan, but George North could not pick up the bouncing ball as he dived for the line.
The scrum was always going to be hotly contested, the one area which has been consistently good for misfiring Northampton this season, and after turning over an Exeter scrum, another penalty saw Hanrahan kick to the corner.
At the second attempt the Northampton forwards drove over for Haywood to touch down despite the line-out going wrong. Hanrahan hit the post from five metres in to leave the home side 5-0 in front.
With Northampton bossing the game, Hanrahan added three points nine minutes before the break.
Exeter were losing the battle at the scrum with tighthead Tom Francis penalised two or three times, and contributing to 10 penalties that the visitors conceded in the first half.
The Chiefs' discipline problems continued straight after the break, with Thomas Waldrom penalised by referee JP Doyle with less than a minute on the board. However, from 42 metres, Hanrahan was wide of the posts.
A tight game was now riddled with mistakes and plenty of kicking, taking some of the intensity out of the contest, though George Pisi gave former Saints academy product Will Hooley a thumping welcome on his return to Franklin's Gardens.
The youngster then kicked out on the full to put his side under all sorts of pressure with 15 minutes to go.
They survived and, with six minutes to go, Steenson finally got the visitors on the board with a 35-metre penalty - but Northampton held on comfortably to secure a vital victory.