Dowson tells Saints that the time is now

Saints forwards coach Phil Dowson
Saints forwards coach Phil Dowson

A few years ago, it felt like Saints would always be in the Premiership play-off semi-finals.

Back in 2015, they topped the regular-season standings for the first time and prepared for their sixth successive play-off appearance in England's top division.

But after losing to Saracens in the semi-final at Franklin's Gardens, little did they know that it would be the club's last final-four Premiership match for four years.

Saints slipped out of the top-four picture as they slid down the table.

But they are now back in the mix as they get set to have their say in the end-of-season shootout once again.

Saints lost 40-21 at Exeter Chiefs last Saturday but thanks to Harlequins' dramatic 27-25 defeat at Wasps, Chris Boyd's team have made the play-offs.

And ahead of the return to Exeter today, the message has been clear: make the most of these chances because you never know when they will come around again.

"When I looked round the room at the start of the year, I thought there was a huge amount of potential," said Saints forwards coach Phil Dowson.

"Chris (Boyd) said at the start of the year where he thought we should aim and he wasn't sure how many bought in but I definitely thought we had the talent to get here.

"But on the back of last season (when Saints finished ninth), a lot of people didn't think we could.

"A lot of people say it's a new team and there's a validity to that but you don't know what's going to happen next year in terms of the squads other clubs have, injuries and stuff like that, so you actually don't know when you're going to be back here (in the play-offs again).

"Chris might get a billion dollar deal in the NFL and leave so this might be our opportunity - this might be it.

"We're definitely building but you never know how long you've got.

"That's one of the things when I was a player - that you always thought 'we'll do it again next year' but they thought that in 2015 and then things unravelled a bit.

"They didn't get the performances they wanted and they haven't had the opportunity to play in the play-offs since then.

"There's loads we can be better at now but you never know when we'll be back in this situation again so let's go full on."

So just how can Saints upset the odds at Sandy Park?

"We have to be more accurate," said Dowson, who played for Saints between 2009 and 2015, helping the club to win a first Premiership title in 2014.

"Exeter are a class side and if we give penalties away, they can play their game.

"In the opposition 22, they are probably better than anyone with driving lineouts and scrum penalties that took us down to 13 men last weekend.

"Discipline and accuracy is what we're preaching and we can get into our game better in the second half.

"It's about who can get their game on the pitch for a long period of time."

Saints are determined to have no regrets at the end of today's game.

"The single most important thing this weekend is to go down swinging," Dowson said.

"We've got to play our game and have the confidence to try what we want to try and to have a crack at it.

"We don't want to shut up shop and just try not to concede points.

"We have to go out there to play and score and trust our system.

"Everyone will have written us off after the result last week but we have to learn lessons from that and then fly in and see what happens."