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

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

Friday, 24th September 2021, 12:02 pm
Saints won at Sandy Park in February

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round two)

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, September 25, 2021, 3pm

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Weather: 20c, cloudy

Live television coverage: None

Referee: Christophe Ridley

Exeter Chiefs: Hodge; Cordero, Slade, Devoto, O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, Maunder; Hepburn, Yeandle (c), Williams; Witty, Lonsdale; Kirsten, Armand, Tuima.

Replacements: Innard, Moon, Iosefa-Scott, McCauley, Tshiunza, Hidalgo-Clyne, H Skinner, Whitten.

Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme, Proctor, Dingwall, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Waller, Matavesi, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Wood, Ludlam (c), Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, Auterac, Hill, Moon, Augustus, Lomani, Litchfield, Freeman.

Not considered for selection: Saints: Matthew Arden, Dan Biggar, Callum Burns, Alex Coles, Piers Francis, Rory Hutchinson, Courtney Lawes, Tom Lockett, Reece Marshall, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Newman, JJ Tonks.

Most recent meeting: Sunday, June 6, 2021: Saints 26 Exeter Chiefs 29 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom’s preview: A nightmare scenario or the perfect time to pounce?

While those inside the Saints camp must consider only the latter, from the outside it feels like the former will ring true at Sandy Park on Saturday.

The black, green and gold will travel to face an Exeter side playing in front of a home crowd at full roar for the first time in a long time this weekend.

And that certainly won’t be the only source of inspiration for Rob Baxter’s side.

Because what happened at Welford Road last weekend - Exeter were well beaten by Leicester Tigers - will have more than fuelled the fire.

And just to add an exclamation point, Exeter also lost the last time they faced Saints at Sandy Park, suffering a 13-12 defeat in a mudbath back in February.

So Saints probably couldn’t face a more fired-up team than the one that will emerge from the home dressing room at just before 3pm on Saturday.

But in rugby, as in life, you either run away from a challenge or you take it head on.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that Saints won’t be running for their lives this weekend.

Just as they did during that incredibly defiant display a few months ago, they will stand and fight.

They did that in both meetings against Exeter last season, almost completing a memorable Premiership double at the Gardens in June.

As it was Exeter, who enjoyed a man advantage after David Ribbans’ early red card, eventually put a stop to that possibility with a second-half comeback.

But Saints had more than given them a fright when they raced into an 18-0 lead on the back of one of their best 40-minute showings in recent memory.

They have shown that they no longer fear Exeter, who have dished out so many beatings since becoming the force they now are.

Saints used to have their number, putting what was a newly-promoted side in their place years ago.

But Exeter are now an established force, at home and abroad.

And even though they started slowly last weekend, you know they will come good, maybe as soon as this weekend.

Whether Saints can match them again, and even overcome them again, remains to be seen.

But if Chris Boyd’s men can find a way to put their own game plan on the field, they have a chance.

And in situations such as this, that is all you can really ask for.

Tom’s prediction: Saints won’t fear Exeter but you just feel that the hosts will be so desperate to put on a show, as the black, green and gold were, and did, last weekend. Exeter 27 Saints 14.