Plucky Saints put on a show for Borthwick
Freeman and Smith prove England credentials as they conquer Chiefs
ENGLISH youngsters Fin Smith and Tommy Freeman stood out in front of national head coach Steve Borthwick as Exeter’s impressive start to the season was stopped in its tracks.
Rob Baxter’s Chiefs have been the campaign’s surprise package but this was their second away defeat. They have not won on the road in the Premiership since October 2022.
northampton were comfortable winners with Smith showing impressive control from no 10. Freeman, who claimed the opening try, was lively on the wing in a bonus-point win.
Fly- half Smith was named player of the match and even carried on after taking a nasty high boot to the face from niall Armstrong for which the replacement Exeter scrum-half was justly sent off. As Borthwick looks to rebuild his England side for the next four-year cycle, Smith and Freeman will undoubtedly be under consideration.
Smith is yet to win a Test cap and neither he nor close friend Freeman were part of Borthwick’s team which finished third at the World Cup against the odds.
‘ He was very good,’ northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson said of Smith (right).
‘Sometimes I forget he’s 21. He’s maturing and the more he plays, the better he gets. He’s been outstanding and he’s a tough competitor. (The performance) wasn’t perfect but we did lots of good things both sides of the ball.’ northampton’s Courtney lawes, now retired from England duty, added: ‘We can be very happy with that. We played a good tactical game and scored some good tries.
‘We’ve shown we can mix it with the big boys.’ Freeman, capped by Eddie Jones but unpopular with Borthwick so far, opened the scoring with northampton dominant in the first half. Exeter just didn’t get out of the blocks. And their coaches shouting at referee Craig Maxwell-Keys over their disagreements with his decision-making was also disappointing in a period in which officials are taking too much unnecessary criticism.
Saints led 17-5 at the break with Curtis langdon also scoring and Smith kicking expertly – save for one long-range penalty which came off a post.
Jacques Vermeulen got a try back for the Chiefs.
Tommy Wyatt made two mistakes at the start of the second half to sum up Exeter’s misery. It left their director of rugby Baxter looking miserable.
Smith kicked another penalty before England scrum-half Alex Mitchell scored the decisive try. Saints countered impressively, with Freeman heavily involved, and Mitchell finished things off in trademark fashion. Freeman had a try ruled out and Scott Sio crossed for Exeter before Armstrong was dismissed for endangering Smith’s safety.
Smith’s game management, kicking and physicality in defence were outstanding.
‘Those sorts of red cards are always tough,’ said Baxter. ‘They feel odd to me. It’s not a deliberate act of foul play.’
Dowson added: ‘Fin has got a few scratches but he’s having a beer. He’s OK.’
northampton captain Fraser Dingwall grabbed his team’s crucial bonus-point fourth score. Ethan Roots’s try was only an Exeter consolation as they went home with nothing.
‘northampton made fewer mistakes than us in difficult conditions,’ said Baxter.
‘Our young players will learn from this.’