Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs: Tom Vickers' match preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
Competition: Aviva Premiership
Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Date: Saturday, December 23, 2017
Kick-off time: 3pm
Television coverage: BT Sport 2
Saints: Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; Ma'afu, Hartley (c), Ford-Robinson; Paterson, Ratuniyarawa; Lawes, Gibson, Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, van Wyk, Hill, Ribbans, Wood, Reinach, Stephenson, Pisi.
Exeter Chiefs: Slade; Nowell, Whitten, S Hill, Woodburn; Steenson (c), Chudley; Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Williams; Skinner, J Hill; Ewers, Armand, S Simmonds.
Replacements: Yeandle, Rimmer, Holmes, Lees, Waldrom, Townsend, J Simmonds, Short.
Outs: Saints: George North (knee), Kieran Brookes (hand), Alex Waller (arm), Tom Collins (foot), Stephen Myler (calf)
Referee: Thomas Foley (45th Premiership match)
Most recent meeting: Saturday, November 4, 2017: Exeter Chiefs 43 Saints 28 (Anglo-Welsh Cup)
Tom's preview: The word pressure has been used far too often when talking about Saints this season.
There was pressure to get the season off to a good start.
Pressure to pick up results after things started to turn sour.
Pressure on Jim Mallinder and his coaches as their work came under ever-increasing scrutiny.
Pressure on the players to provide some cheer for the fans.
And that pressure has not brought the best out of Saints.
But this weekend, it is time to for those outside the Franklin's Gardens dressing room to take the pressure off a little.
Saints need to play with passion and pride, but they also need to have a certain swagger if they are to stand a chance against Exeter.
They will expect to beat anyone at home, no matter how bad recent form has been.
And it has been bad, with Saints losing 10 of their past 11 matches.
But Exeter are surely considered favourites this Saturday, as they sit top of the tree before Christmas and have almost double the amount of Premiership points Saints possess.
So now is the time for Saints to rediscover some of that abandon they played with during their four-match winning streak.
They, of course, need desire by the bucketload, especially in defence, to defeat the Chiefs.
But they also need a creative freedom in attack to make the most of any openings when they arrive.
With the fans unlikely to expect too much after a difficult run of results, Saints have a big chance to prove their doubters wrong.
They will be supported by a sell-out crowd, who, following the recent departure of Jim Mallinder, will now simply be focused on backing their boys.
And that should create a much better atmosphere at the Gardens.
It could bring the best out of the players and if they can play to their full potential, who knows what can happen?
It will be one of the toughest tests in the toughest of seasons.
But all Saints can do is go out there and give it a crack.
They will have the town behind them and how pleasant it would be if they could provide a Christmas cracker and the present of a win this weekend.
Tom's prediction: Saints 18 Exeter 22