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

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 19th February 2021, 12:23 pm
Updated Friday, 19th February 2021, 12:24 pm
Saints were beaten by Exeter in the Champions Cup quarter-final at Sandy Park in September
Saints were beaten by Exeter in the Champions Cup quarter-final at Sandy Park in September

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 10)

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, February 20, 2021, 3pm

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Weather: 12c, light rain

Live television coverage: BT Sport Extra 1

Referee: Christophe Ridley

Exeter Chiefs: Hogg; O'Flaherty, Hendrickson, Devoto, Hodge; H Skinner, Maunder; Hepburn, Yeandle (c), Williams; Witty, S Skinner; Ewers, Capstick, S Simmonds.

Replacements: Innard, Kenny, Steet, Armand, Lonsdale, Hidalgo-Clyne, J Simmonds, Whitten.

Saints: Tuala; Proctor, Francis, Hutchinson, Sleightholme; Furbank, Mitchell; Waller (cc), Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Isiekwe, Ludlam (cc), Adendorff.

Replacements: Marshall, Auterac, Hill, Coles, Wood, Taylor, Mallinder, Naiyaravoro.

Outs: Saints: Courtney Lawes (international duty), Teimana Harrison (hand), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Achilles), Owen Franks (foot), Tommy Freeman (ankle), Manny Iyogun (ankle), Kayde Sylvester (Achilles)

Most recent meeting: Sunday, September 20, 2020: Exeter Chiefs 38 Saints 15 (Champions Cup quarter-final)

Tom's preview: Momentum. It's something sides in every sport are desperately seeking.

And Saints seemed to finally be gathering some when they won at Wasps a couple of weeks ago.

No, it wasn't the most efficient second-half showing to say the least, but Saints once again gritted their teeth and got the job done.

They have shown the ability to prevail in close encounters in recent times, winning back-to-back away games.

But they know they are in for their biggest test this weekend.

And they go to Sandy Park on the back of a free weekend, caused by Covid-19 issues at Newcastle Falcons, who could not travel to Franklin's Gardens to face Chris Boyd's men.

Now Saints will have to click back into gear in the best possible fashion as they seek a win at a stadium that has been the most unhappy of hunting grounds in recent years.

In fact, the men from Northampton have not won at Sandy Park since February 2014.

Ten long matches have come and gone since then, with Exeter winning every single one of them.

So Saints will need every ounce of momentum they had built up before last Saturday's enforced break from action - and more.

They did put up a real fight in the Champions Cup quarter-final at Exeter back in September.

But they failed in both red zones, being undone in defence by a ruthless Exeter side and then failing to really damage the home barricades at the other end of the field.

The Chiefs pride themselves on defence and unless Saints can show a more clinical streak than they did the last time they were in Exeter, a defeat will beckon on Saturday.

But this Saints team goes back to Sandy Park in a much better frame of mind than in September.

They have started to build confidence again and they have far more players, particularly in the front row, available to them this time around.

Exeter haven't been invincible this season, with Bristol having recently won at Sandy Park.

And Saints will have to take a leaf out of the Bears' book if they are to keep their winning run going this weekend.

It hasn't been done for a long time by a Northampton team, but anything can happen if those confidence levels remain high.

But, win or lose, this match is about putting in another big performance to maintain that momentum.

Saints can do that by at least pushing Exeter close and that has to be the minimum requirement for a club that sets itself high standards.

The black, green and gold are now on the coat-tails of the top-four teams, and this weekend they have a real chance to show they can compete with them.

Tom's prediction: Saints have lost on their past 10 visits to Sandy Park and although they are high spirits heading into this match, you would still expect Exeter to have too much on home soil. Saints need to stay in the game for as long as possible to have a sniff, but the Chiefs will expect yet another victory. Exeter 28 Saints 17.