|Exeter (14) 38|
|Tries: Maunder, Vermeulen (2), Nowell, Hill Cons: J Simmonds (4) Steenson Pen: J Simmonds|
|Northampton (10) 15|
|Tries: Harrison, Dingwall Con: Biggar Pen: Biggar|
Exeter are into their first Champions Cup semi-final after easing aside a patched-up, but battling Northampton.
Jack Maunder and Jacques Vermeulen’s tries checked Saints’ fast start, but Northampton were within four at the break after Teimana Harrison went over.
Jack Nowell’s superb try two minutes after the restart and Jonny Hill’s score gave Exeter breathing space.
Fraser Dingwall’s angled run gave the scoreline a kinder look for Saints but never threatened to change the result.
Flanker Vermeulen capped Exeter’s win with a startling step, a turn of pace and his second try.
French Top 14 champions Toulouse will travel to Sandy Park on Saturday after they swept aside Ulster in the day’s earlier quarter-final.
The prospect of a final against Saracens, spiced by the London side’s wage-cap transgression, looms beyond that with the defending champions meeting Racing 92 on the other side of the draw.
It is the first time Exeter have made the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition in seven attempts.
The Chiefs missed out in agonising fashion in 2016 when Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion eliminated them with the final play of their quarter-final against Wasps.
This all-English clash rarely looked like being as close. But neither was it as one-sided as some had expected.
Northampton fight hard in defeat
The teams came into the match in starkly contrasting form. Exeter had won six out of seven Premiership matches since rugby’s restart. Northampton had lost six out of seven in the same period.
Northampton had also headed home from their last visit to Sandy Park on the end of 57-7 drubbing.
Saints arrived for this match with a lengthy injury list, not least at loose-head prop where Manny Iyogun, a teenager with only one first-team appearance to his name, started.
But Northampton and Iyogun began well, applying early pressure, before a scrum against the head produced the first try after a quarter of an hour.
Centre Henry Slade punched through an unprepared Saints midfield and fed scrum-half Jack Maunder to go under the posts.
When Jacques Vermeulen burrowed over from close range nine minutes later it seemed that a heavy defeat could be brewing.
But Saints recovered with captain Teimana Harrison bundling over at the back of a rolling maul and could have gone in at the break ahead after scrum-half Henry Taylor darted through, only to be smothered by the cover defence.
Nowell made his own break count after the interval, squirming past full-back George Furbank before Hill’s short-range effort opened up an advantage that the hosts never looked like surrendering.
Northampton’s commitment to the cause was exemplified by Iyogun who was only replaced by Alex Saville, loaned from Gloucester on Thursday after tournament organiser relaxed rules on new signings, in the 72nd minute.
Exeter Chiefs: Hogg; Nowell, Slade, Whitten, O’Flaherty; J Simmonds (capt), Maunder; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Williams, Gray, Hill, Ewers, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.
Replacements: Steenson for J. Simmonds (77), Hidalgo-Clyne for J. Maunder (59), Moon for Hepburn (59), Yeandle for Cowan-Dickie (59), Francis for Williams (59), S. Skinner for Hill (55), Kirsten for Ewers (61). Not Used: Devoto.
Northampton Saints: Furbank; Proctor, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Tuala; Biggar, Taylor; Iyogun, Haywood, Franks, Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa, Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison (capt).
Replacements: Naiyaravoro for Tuala (70), Adendorff for Taylor (52), Seville for Iyogun (70), Fish for Haywood (56), Hill for O. Franks (51), Isiekwe for Ratuniyarawa (52). Not Used: Moon, A. Mitchell.
‘Toulouse are exactly what we need’ - what they said
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter speaking to BT Sport: “I thought we struggled with the consistency that we usually have in our game. Northampton broke up elements of our game around the set piece and around the middle third of the field so great credit to them and the energy and enthusiasm they showed.
“But our players have come through a difficult scenario where they are heavy favourites to go the semi-final and had everything to lose today.
“There is nothing to hold back, nothing to lose on Saturday. We can really enjoy training with intensity and throw it all out on the field in a European semi.
“Toulouse is exactly what we need, the bigger the game, the bigger the name, the more we can be ourselves and not second-guess what is coming. The only way to survive will be to be red-hot in the moment.”
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd speaking to BT Sport: : “I can’t fault the effort. But we had to work too hard to get our points and they didn’t have to work hard enough to get theirs. We just had too much accumulation of errors and gave them their points a little too easily.
On teenage prop Manny Iyogun: “Manny is a great kid and what he did in surviving out there for 70-odd minutes was remarkable considering last week was really his first men’s scrum. It was a fantastic opportunity for him, earlier than we thought and I think that he handled himself very well.”