Premiership: Exeter Chiefs 31-30 Northampton Saints
|Exeter (14) 31|
|Tries: Penalty, Hepburn, Armand, Waldrom Cons: Steenson, Simmonds 2 Pen: Steenson|
|Northampton (17) 30|
|Tries: Horne, Foden, Mallinder Cons: Francis 3 Pens: Myler, Francis 2|
Thomas Waldrom's converted try with the last play of the game saw Exeter steal victory from Northampton at Sandy Park and go top of the Premiership table.
The Chiefs trailed 30-17 with 10 minutes remaining and Don Armand's try gave them hope before Waldrom won it.
The hosts, who scored earlier through a penalty try and Alec Hepburn, were facing a fourth straight league defeat.
Rob Horne, Ben Foden and Harry Mallinder scored fine tries for Saints but they were to be denied.
Lowly Northampton looked to be heading for a remarkable victory, but couldn't hold out in the closing stages and slipped to a 10th defeat this season.
The visitors rediscovered their attacking verve as Luther Burrell broke from inside his own half to help send Foden into the left corner for their second try, before Piers Francis created space and offloaded superbly for Mallinder to extend the lead after half-time.
But Exeter refused to buckle and fought back to avoid back-to-back home defeats, with Ollie Woodburn splitting the defence and Don Armand finishing from 15 yards out to set up a tense finale.
Exeter thought a second penalty try had won the game when a rolling maul was pulled down but, after Saints number eight Teimana Harrison was sent to the sin bin, a second effort saw Waldrom burrow under the posts to secure a bonus point.
Joe Simmonds' simple conversion completed the comeback for the Devon side, who moved four points clear at the top before second-placed Saracens face Leicester on Sunday (15:30 GMT).
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter:
"I wasn't delighted with our performance, as there will be more negatives to review than positives.
"However it was a highly valuable five points and in the last 15 minutes, we showed what Exeter are all about by playing the way we did earlier in the season.
"I predicted we would be edgy after our run of losses and so it proved and it's almost as if we are getting scared of losing the title. We are creating pressure but not converting it and we are trying to do D instead of doing ABC first."
Northampton interim head coach Alan Dickens:
"It's a positive performance but we are on the wrong end of the result. We knew we had a chance coming down here with a game plan and for 70 minutes we were in control.
"Woodburn then makes a fantastic break to set up a try and get the crowd behind them with a bit of pressure being placed on the referee so a few late calls go against us, which proved decisive.
"Rob Horne was fantastic, his combination with Luther Burrell was pretty clinical but we just couldn't get one final opportunity in the second half to take the game away from them."
Exeter: Lachie Turner; Whitten, Devoto, Hill, Woodburn; Steenson (capt), Chudley; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Holmes, Skinner, Hill, Armand, Salvi, Waldrom
Replacements: Innard, Moon, Street, Lees, Kvesic, Townsend, Simmonds, Dollman
Northampton: Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; Ma'afu, Haywood, Brookes, Paterson, Day (capt), Gibson, Brussow, Harrison.
Replacements: Marshall, Van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Moon, Wood, Reinach, Myler, Tuitavake.
Sin-bin: Ma'afu (17), Harrison (79).
Referee: Christophe Ridley.