Chudley and Sturgess in Chiefs side for Saints clash

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Two former Kettering players will be in action at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday - in the kit of Exeter.

Brett Sturgess and Will Chudley - both of whom are products of the Waverley Road youth system - will take on Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership clash this weekend.

The Chiefs opened their campaign with a 43-6 thrashing of Sale Sharks and a performance that saw both prop Sturgess and scrum-half Chudley to the fore.

And with former Saints favourites Chris Budgen and Ali Hepher on the playing and coaching staff respectively there will be plenty of local interest in the visiting side.

“Sunday will be a great challenge for us,” said Hepher, who played 120 times for the Saints during a 10-year stint at the Gardens.

“They’re obviously a top team, not just in the Premiership, but also in Europe as well and that’s where we need to be testing ourselves.

“I think this weekend will give us a good gauge as to how good a side we are.”

Like the Chiefs, Northampton opened their Premiership account on a high last weekend as they triumphed 24-19 against Gloucester at Kingsholm and Hepher knows overcoming the Saints on their own turf is no easy task.

In their two previous top flight visits to the Gardens, the Chiefs have claimed just a solitary losing bonus point. That came in season one of their Premiership history when a late try from prop Budgen, himself a former Saints star, saw the game end up 27-21.

Whilst last term didn’t prove any easier for Rob Baxter’s side as they were on the receiving end of their worst defeat of the season, going down 33-3 in October.

However, both those results are now confined to the history books and Hepher - who won the Heineken Cup with the Saints in 2000 - is hoping this latest encounter will prove more favourable for the visitors.

“Being honest, we’ve been disappointed with our performances there in the past,” added Hepher. “That said, you have to credit Northampton as they have come up with some great performances. It’s a tough place to go for sure, but that’s all the better for us in some ways as we know we have to challenge ourselves at the hardest places if we are going to improve as a side.”

To at least counter that home threat, the Chiefs will have to meet the Saints head on and look to impose themselves from the outset, particularly up front where the Saints are notoriously strong.

“That’s been their strength for years, they’ve always been pretty dominant up front,” warned the Exeter coach.

“It’s an important area for sure, but across the board they have physical guys in every area. We’re well aware we will need to be on top of our game, not just to control their threat, but to also try and impose our game on them. We won’t concentrate too much on them, instead we will bring our game to the table and see what we can apply to them.”

With the Chiefs in fine fettle against the Sharks, it is little surprise that Baxter and Hepher have decided to stick with the majority of last weekend’s winning formula.

An injury to Kiwi centre Jason Shoemark means he misses out this weekend, so Phil Dollman switches from full-back to the midfield, whilst the No.15 spot is filled by Luke Arscott. On the bench, the visitors welcome back Fijian powerhouse Sireli Naqelevuki as one of their three options in the backs.

The loss of Shoemark can be considered an untimely blow, but Hepher says the quality and depth of the current Exeter squad is there to be seen and he says the competition for places right across the board is helping to bring out the best in all of the players.