Tom Vickers’ Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints preview

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 19)

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 10th April 2015, 12:30 pm
George Pisi helped Saints bounce back by beating Ulster in Belfast in December, 2012
George Pisi helped Saints bounce back by beating Ulster in Belfast in December, 2012

Date/kick-off time: Sunday, April 12, 2pm

Venue: Sandy Park

Weather forecast: 13C, mostly cloudy

Referee: Wayne Barnes

Exeter Chiefs: Whitten, Nowell, Hill, Jess; Slade, Chudley; Moon, Yeandle, Francis; Mumm (c), Lees; Ewers, White, Waldrom.

Replacements: Taione, Rimmer, Brown, Skinner, Horstmann, Lewis, Steenson, James.

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i; Corbisiero, Hartley (c), Denman; Manoa, Day; Wood, Clark, Dickinson.

Replacements: Haywood, A Waller, Mercey, Fisher, Dowson, Dickson, Stephenson, Tuala.

Outs: Saints: Ben Foden (knee), George North (concussion), Courtney Lawes (shoulder), Salesi Ma’afu.

Most recent meeting: Friday, November 14: Saints 18 Exeter Chiefs 24 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom’s preview: From the French frying pan into the west country fire.

Saints, who suffered a sobering 37-5 defeat at Clermont’s Stade Marcel Michelin last Saturday, head to Sandy Park on Sunday, desperate to bounce back in style.

There are easier venues at which to achieve their aim, as Exeter are teak-tough on their own turf.

They showed that when beating Saints in last season’s LV= Cup final, suffocating Jim Mallinder’s men and claiming the silverware.

And this season they have shown they can continue to mix it with the big boys.

In fact, with a burgeoning Academy, they are becoming one of the big boys.

The likes of Jack Nowell and Henry Slade look set to be staple features for England for years to come and there are more talented youngsters in the Sandy Park pipeline.

And it is not just the distant future that is bright for the Chiefs.

They are very much in the reckoning for a top-four spot and know a win against the champions would see them take a huge step towards booking their place in the play-offs.

And so you would think Saints look odds-on to see injury added to Clermont-inflicted insult this weekend.

But to believe that would be to underestimate a side who simply showed nothing like their best last weekend.

In fact, the Bath win in February aside, Saints have not hit the heights for a while.

But they have bounced back from big defeats before - and they know they can do it again.

They have become as used to using suffering to fuel success as Rocky Balboa.

In December, 2012 they were humbled at home by Ulster before bouncing back to win 10-9 in Belfast a week later.

In March, 2013 they were mauled by Leicester Tigers before winning comfortably at London Welsh in the fixture that followed.

And in the December of that year, they conjured up one of the most miraculous turnarounds in European rugby history, beating Leinster in Dublin seven days after being eviscerated 40-7 at Franklin’s Gardens.

So having slid down the mountain, they know how to scale it at the next time of asking.

As George Pisi pointed out after last weekend’s defeat - rugby is so good because it provides a second chance so soon.

And though they won’t have it easy, Saints can pour water on the Chiefs’ fire to claim redemption this weekend.

Tom’s prediction: Exeter Chiefs 18 Saints 18