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Northampton Saints have named a team with four changes for this weekend’s Aviva Premiership match against Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park.
Having made a return to first team action from the bench, Ahsee Tuala comes into the starting XV on the left wing. At fly half, try scorer JJ Hanrahan is also in from the off for the Aviva Premiership bout.
The Wallers swap on the loose head, elder brother Alex replacing Ethan, while a final change sees Jon Fisher wear eight in a back row shuffle.
Exeter Chiefs only defeat in their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters came at Leicester in round 15.
The Chiefs are the best home side in the tournament having picked up 32 league points from their eight fixtures at Sandy Park so far.
Northampton Saints along with Wasps share the accolade of being the best side in Aviva Premiership Rugby on current form, both having picked up 24 league points from a possible 30.
The East Midlanders’ only defeat in the last six rounds was 25-26 at Newcastle on 21st February.
Exeter’s only two victories over Northampton in their last nine Premiership Rugby clashes both came last season. The Saints record in the tournament at Sandy Park is an impressive won three, lost two.
Exeter Chiefs Boss Rob Baxter challenged his Exeter Chiefs side to go “flat out” in their attempts to secure a place in the end of season play-offs.
Having occupied a position in the top two for much of the season, it’s these final few weeks where the Devonians can really underline their credentials.
Buoyed by last weekend’s victory over the Newcastle Falcons, Baxter has tried to deflect any so-called pressure off his players by insisting they simply go out and enjoy the experience of taking the Chiefs into unchartered waters.
“We are not looking too far ahead,” said Baxter. “At this stage of the season the important thing is you don’t look too far ahead, it’s more week by week. The time for planning and plotting and staging your way through games has gone now, it’s more about getting your head down and enjoying every experience.
“If you are second in the table and not enjoying every occasion, especially here at Sandy Park, that’s what you are getting wrong. I don’t want the players worrying about where they will end up at the end of the season, I want them going flat out against Northampton, because it’s going to be a great game.
“I want them to make the most of this 80 minutes because you’re time as a professional sportsman is limited, so I want them to maximise this time and this opportunity and look back on it with a bit of pride.”
Certainly the Chiefs can be proud of a great deal this season, but it was at Franklin’s Gardens on New Year’s Day where they turned in one of their most disappointing displays to date. On that occasion, the Saints edged a somewhat drab encounter 8-3.
Although defeated, Baxter took heart from the fact his side did depart with a losing bonus point, but he is expecting a much improved performance when the two clubs meet again this weekend.
Baxter added: “First and foremost what you have to look at over the course of the season is how you are collecting points and I actually think a close lost at Northampton, having only conceded eight points, isn’t a terrible result especially following up a five-day turnaround in a tough fixture against Sale where we collected five points.
“On it’s own I don’t think the game up there stands for too much, but obviously we want to play well down here because we are at home. As I said, the fixture at Northampton does not hold much for either side because they will probably think they didn’t play great that day either, it’s more about focusing on ourselves.
Despite collecting a maximum haul last time out, the Chiefs do make changes to their winning formula. In the pack, Ollie Atkins and Dave Ewers are recalled ahead of Lewis Stevenson and Julian Salvi; Dave Lewis is given the nod at scrum-half ahead of Will Chudley, while behind James Short’s inclusion means Ian Whitten reverts back into the centre alongside Henry Slade.
That in turn means Sam Hill drops to the bench where he will be joined for the first time by Australian international Lachie Turner, who is poised to make his debut for the club since arriving last month.
Match : Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
Date : Sunday 20 March
Venue : Sandy Park,
Kick Off : 1pm
Live on: BT Sport
Referee : Greg Garner (95th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley & Andrew Pearce.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ollie Atkins, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (capt),1 Ben Moon
Replacments : 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Lachie Turner
15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Lee Dickson (capt), 8 Jonathan Fisher, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Teimana Harrison, 5 Christian Day, 4 James Craig, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacments : 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 James Wilson
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