Premiership semi-final: Exeter thrash Northampton to reach fourth straight final
|Exeter (14) 42|
|Tries: Williams, J Simmonds, Dennis, O'Flaherty, S Simmonds, Hill Cons: J Simmonds 6|
|Northampton (12) 12|
|Tries: Penalty try, Tuala|
Exeter reached their fourth successive Premiership final as they beat Northampton 42-12 at Sandy Park.
Having led through Harry Williams and Joe Simmonds, Exeter were pegged back by a penalty try and Ahsee Tuala's score in a pulsating first half.
But two tries in three minutes soon after the restart from Dave Dennis and Tom O'Flaherty put Exeter in control.
Sam Simmonds and Sam Hill went over late on as Exeter beat Saints for a second successive week.
The Chiefs will face Saracens at Twickenham next week - the third time in the past four years those two sides have contested the showpiece final.
- Saracens crush Gloucester to reach fifth final in six years
- Relive the Premiership semi-finals as they happened
The opening period was a half of two halves - Exeter dominated the early possession and territory and put together a host of trademark multi-phase passages of play.
After Dave Ewers was held up just short of the line, Williams went over from close range as the hosts finally broke Northampton's resolve, before a lovely dummy by Joe Simmonds opened up a gap for him to go over four minutes later.
Saints got back into it despite James Fish dropping the ball as he went over the line, as he was tackled by an offside O'Flaherty who was sin-binned and a penalty try awarded.
With Exeter short-handed, Saints unleashed a devastating period of play in their backs, ending with Rory Hutchinson superbly holding a pass and juggling the ball before feeding Tuala to bring them within two points.
They could have led at the break had Dan Biggar's drop goal attempt not gone wide or Cobus Reinach not dropped the ball when put clean through by Hutchinson in first-half stoppage time.
But Exeter stormed away early in the second half, Dennis barrelling over after a driving maul had set his side up on the Saints line before O'Flaherty blazed in from inside his own half and then outpaced Biggar for a fine individual score.
Northampton failed to see much of the ball as the half wore on, with Exeter held up on their opponents' line twice before Sam Simmonds eventually went over following a television review and replacement centre Hill crossed in the final play of the game.
Can Exeter beat Saracens at Twickenham?
Exeter's fourth successive visit to the final is the second best record behind the nine straight finals Leicester achieved between 2005 and 2013.
But they have never beaten Saracens in a final - losing to the newly-crowned European champions in both 2016 and 2018.
However, Chiefs did beat them in a dramatic semi-final two years ago at Sandy Park before going on to defeat Wasps in the final.
One can draw little from Sarries' win over Exeter at Allianz Park a few weeks ago - both sides played second-string teams as the hosts prepared for the European Champions Cup final and the Chiefs were already assured of a home semi-final in the play-offs.
But Exeter can take heart from their 31-13 win over a stronger Sarries outfit just before Christmas, although in big finals a Saracens side led by Mark McCall have proved almost unstoppable.
"We've got a large group of players here, a lot of whom were involved last season, a lot of whom had a good season last year and had another good season this year and came through some tough experiences," Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter said after the win.
"We should be a better team based just on that alone and we've got to have some confidence in that.
"We're an improving side - we scored more league points this season than last season, more tries, our stats are improving week by week, month by month and we've got to maintain some improvement going forward."
Boyd pleased with 'vastly improved' Saints
In his first season in charge of Northampton, director of rugby Chris Boyd has seen his side go from a ninth-placed finish to fourth.
While beating Premiership table-toppers Exeter proved a step too far for his side, the New Zealander did feel a semi-final place had exceeded his pre-season expectations.
"We all thought that we needed to get back into the top tier in Europe, so to get into that top six was always going to be a pass mark," he told BBC Sport.
"To get top four was a very good year and if we could have found a way to get to Twickenham that would have been an excellent year.
"It's not a great season, but it's vastly improved, the trick for us is to build on what we've achieved this year.
"The one thing I know about the Northampton Saints boys is there was no lack of effort.
"The boys worked really hard, so we have to find a smart way for us to, instead of getting 10 regular season wins, get to 14 or 15 and hopefully push our way into play-off contention again and do better. "
Exeter: Nowell; Cuthbert, Slade, Devoto, O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, White; Moon, Yeandle (capt), Williams, Dennis, Hill, Ewers, Armand, Kvesic
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Hepburn, Francis, Skinner, S Simmonds, Maunder, Steenson, Hill
Northampton: Tuala; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; van Wyk, Fish, Painter, Moon, Ratuniyarawa, Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison (capt)
Replacements: Dawidiuk, Waller, Hill, Ribbans, Gibson, Wood, Mitchell, Burrell
Referee: Matthew Carley.