Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 21st February 2020, 12:11 pm
Updated Friday, 21st February 2020, 12:11 pm
Saints lost at Exeter in the Premiership play-off semi-finals last season
Saints lost at Exeter in the Premiership play-off semi-finals last season

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 11)

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, February 23, 2020, 1pm

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Weather forecast: 12c, chance of showers

Live television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Jack Makepeace (2nd Premiership game)

Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; O'Flaherty, Whitten, Hendrickson, Woodburn; J Simmonds (c), White; Moon, Taione, Williams; Kirsten, J Hill; Ewers, Vermeulen, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Poole, Hepburn, Pieretto, Skinner, Armand, Maunder, Steenson, Bodilly.

Saints: Mallinder; Tuala, Proctor, Symons, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; van Wyk, Fish, Hill; Coles, Bean; Wood, Tonks, Harrison (c).

Replacements: Haywood, Waller, O Franks, Glynn, Ludlam, Reinach, Dingwall, Naiyaravoro.

Outs: Saints: Dan Biggar, Rory Hutchinson, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, George Furbank (all international duty), Alex Moon (knee), David Ribbans (ankle), Ollie Sleightholme (hamstring), Piers Francis (concussion), Jamie Gibson (ankle), Ehren Painter (calf), Api Ratuniyarawa (suspended - game two of four)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, May 25, 2019: Exeter Chiefs 42 Saints 12 (Gallagher Premiership play-off semi-final)

Tom's preview: After suffering two surprise defeats in as many matches, Saints now need to turn things on their head.

At the start of the season, fixtures away to Exeter and at home to Saracens may well have been penciled in as likely defeats by people outside of the club.

After all, last season's top two teams were head and shoulders above the rest, as shown when they reached the final in comfortable fashion.

But after losing matches they will feel they should have won, against London Irish and Bristol, Saints must now try to win matches many will feel they should lose.

Especially because their squad is significantly depleted by injuries and international call-ups.

Saints' pack is lacking Courtney Lawes, Alex Moon, David Ribbans, Lewis Ludlam, Jamie Gibson, Api Ratuniyarawa and Ehren Painter.

It is a laundry list of absences that any club would struggle to cope with.

And when you consider how formidable the two packs they will face in the next two matches are, you would be seen as a little crazy to predict Saints wins.

But Chris Boyd's men have sprung surprises before.

They won at Saracens on the opening day, despite having to field inexperienced players such as Alex Coles and JJ Tonks.

Those youngsters came to the fore that day, showing they could mix it at the top level.

And they will be asked to do so again this weekend.

Exeter have hardly been blemish-free at home so far this season, providing a chink of light for Saints, who must also go to Sandy Park in the Champions Cup quarter-finals in April.

It has not been a happy hunting ground for the black, green and gold, who have lost their past eight matches at Exeter.

They have not won there since some late heroics earned them a February success during the 2013/14 double-winning season.

Exeter, who used to get ground down by Saints' powerful pack, have turned the tables.

And in brutal fashion.

They eventually cruised to back-to-back wins against Saints at Sandy Park to bring the curtain down on last season for Boyd's boys.

And if they can repeat the trick again this weekend, they will stretch the gap at the top of the table.

But Saints have to go there and try to play their game as they bid to banish the bad memories of recent weeks.

They still have plenty of talent in their squad, particularly in their back line.

And they will need all of it if they are to overcome one of their toughest tests of the season so far this Sunday.

Tom's prediction: Saints have not won at Sandy Park for six years, and sadly you would have to feel that barren run will continue. Exeter are a formidable team and their pack could be too strong for a Saints team shorn of so many players due to injury and international call-ups. Exeter 32 Saints 18