Tom Vickers' Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs preview
Fixture: Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs (Aviva Premiership - round five)
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton
Date and kick-off time: Friday, September 30, 7.45pm
Saints: Foden (c); K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North; Myler, Groom; A Waller, Haywood, Brookes; Lawes, Paterson; Gibson, Clark, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, Ma’afu, Hill, Dickinson, Harrison, Kessell, Hutchinson, Tuala.
Exeter Chiefs: Turner; Woodburn, Devoto, Slade, Whitten; Steenson, Chudley; Moon, Yeandle (c), Holmes; Lees, Parling; Dennis, Horstmann, Waldrom.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Hepburn, Williams, Welch, White, Lewis, Nowell.
Injuries: Saints: Christian Day (ruptured bicep), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), Tom Stephenson (broken leg), Dylan Hartley (back), Lee Dickson (groin).
Referee: Matthew Carley
Most recent meeting: Sunday, March 20, 2016: Exeter Chiefs 20 Saints 12 (Aviva Premiership)
Tom’s preview: Not since the season that eventually ended in relegation have Saints lost three successive league games at Franklin’s Gardens.
The ground has been a typically tough place to visit in recent years, with Jim Mallinder, who took over after the demotion to National League One in 2007, helping to create something of a citadel.
But this season, that home pride has been dented, with Bath and Wasps both winning in Northampton during the formative stage of this season.
Saints have played two, lost two at the Gardens during the current campaign, and they simply can’t afford another defeat when Exeter Chiefs come calling this Friday night.
Last week’s loss to Wasps saw Saints slip to 10th in the embryonic Premiership table.
And though that is no cause for concern as yet, they will know they have to get back on track during the next two weeks in a bid to close the gap on the top four places.
They also need some winning momentum to take into the Champions Cup, which begins on October 15 with a home game against Montpellier.
And Saints will certainly not want to go into that clash with a winless run at the Gardens to their name.
They know they are better than that, and they have shown it in recent performances.
They did everything but win against Wasps last weekend, spurning a plethora of chances in a 20-15 defeat.
And they could argue they wouldn’t have been beaten at Saracens a week earlier either, had Alex Waller not been sin-binned during the second half.
But, ultimately, results are all that matter and the Saints players know that.
The positive thing for them is that, unlike that relegation season in 2006/07, they are playing well and don’t appear to be far away.
They have a squad saturated with talented players, who will be eager to see off Exeter and kick-start the season.
But they certainly won’t have it easy against a Chiefs side who pride themselves on being hard to beat.
They are teak-tough at home and are not an easy proposition on the road.
Although Saints edged them out at the Gardens last season, the Chiefs did manage to win in Northampton the season before.
On that occasion, they soaked up Saints pressure and struck when it mattered most.
Well, that is exactly what Bath and Wasps have done this season, so you’d imagine Exeter’s game plan won’t be much different.
They will trust their defence and rely on the likes of Jack Nowell, who will start the game on the bench, and Henry Slade to unlock Saints when the opportunities arise.
So Saints will have to be smart and they will cetainly have to be ruthless.
They will want to show their fans that the Gardens is still a stadium to fear.
And they will want to show that their current league standing is completely false.
Under the Friday night lights, this is their time to shine.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 15 Exeter 10