Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs Premiership Preview

Northampton Saints host Exeter Chiefs at Franklins Gardens

Northampton Saints have named a team with six changes for this weekend’s Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs on New Year’s Day at Franklin’s Gardens.

Northampton played London Irish on Boxing Day and as part of the half-a-dozen changes Tom Collins and JJ Hanrahan return to the back line.

In the forwards Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood, Victor Matfield and Sam Dickinson all re-join the pack.

Northampton Saints are without a win in their last three matches in all tournaments since beating Bath 13-11 at the Recreation Ground in Aviva Premiership Rugby on 5th December.

The only side to beat the Saints at Franklin’s Gardens in Premiership Rugby since Exeter won there in November 2014 is Saracens, twice.

Exeter Chiefs are the best team in Aviva Premiership Rugby over the last six rounds, having dropped only two possible league points in that period.

The Chiefs have won three of their last four away games in the tournament. Exeter are going for a third straight victory over the Saints in Premiership Rugby having won both encounters last season.

The Chiefs most recent fixture at Franklin’s Gardens came when they lost the final of last season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup there to Saracens.

Exeter Director of Rugby Rob Baxter says they are expecting a backlash from Northampton Saints after their loss ot London Irish.

While Northampton suffered their r fourth Aviva Premiership defeat of the season the Chiefs were notching up their sixth top flight win in seven starts, seeing off visiting Sale Sharks at Sandy Park as they maintained their pursuit at the top of defending champions Saracens.

Ahead of tomorrow’s match-up, however, Baxter is refusing to read too much into the fortunes of the Saints, who he knows always pose a formidable challenge on their own patch.

Baxter said: “Results would say they are having a bit of a down patch, but traditionally the teams they tend to end up around that top four – and Northampton are one of those – they tend to be able to deal with sticky patches when they come along.

“I think that’s a quality that we still aspire too, but Northampton are a side that are able to come through those patches strongly enough and still be challenging at the right end of the table come the end of the season.

“For me, if you look at their squad there are still a lot of individuals there when they have been a top four side and there are still a lot of individuals who are there when they won a Premiership. Recent results for them have been pretty tight and it’s not like they have been beaten by a large margin.

Certainly the Chiefs showed last season that they can indeed win at the Gardens, their 24-18 victory last November was the first time Exeter had won at the venue and Baxter is hopeful his players can produce a repeat performance in their first fixture of 2016.

“We know we have to be good on Friday,” added the Exeter coach. “It doesn’t matter where Northampton are in the league, if you want to win at Franklin’s Gardens you have be good. We can’t control how they train or how they turn up, but we can control how we train and the mental state in which we turn up.”

Already this season, though, the Chiefs have demonstrated they can compete against the very best, both in England and in Europe, and Baxter is confident his team can maintain their lofty status within the Premiership.

“We’re seven games in, but there are still plenty of tough games to come,” warned Baxter after being asked if his side had overcome the issues of narrow losses suffered last term.

“Right now we don’t know if we have eradicated those kind of results, but what we are seeing is a good level of performance at the moment. At the same time we’re also managing to deal with some relatively long-term injuries to some important players, which in turn is showing the strength of our squad.and the understanding of our game plan.

“We’re also probably getting kore comfortable with playing in the Premiership and playing in higher pressure situations. It was something that was never going to happen overnight – and we still have some way to go – so the proof of the pudding isn’t where we are now, it’s where we will be at the end of the season.

“I think what we have to get used to dealing with is the pressure of being up at the top and everyone coming after us because we are above them. It’s a different challenge now, but it’s one we have to relish and enjoy.”

Team news for the Chiefs ahead of their trip is that Baxter has made one change to his pack. England international Tom Johnson is promoted from the bench to replace Julian Salvi at open-side, while Ben White is brought onto the bench to provide back-row cover.

Behind, Michele Campagnaro – impressive off the bench against Sale – make his first-ever Premiership start in the centre alongside Ian Whitten, while Olly Woodburn is given the nod on the wing ahead of James Short, who drops down to the bench.

Otherwise, it’s ‘as you were’ for Baxter’s side, who including last season’s double over the Saints, have won the past three meetings between the two clubs.

The Bookies have given Exeter a 5 point start for this Match – with an offer of up to £200 in Bonus bets.

Match : Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
Date : Friday 1 January
Venue : Franklin’s Gardens,
Kick Off : 3pm
Live on: BT Sport
Match Officials
Referee : JP Doyle (102nd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & Gareth Copsey.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.



15 Ben Foden (c), 14 Tom Collins, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.

Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Christian Day, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Harry Mallinder.


15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Tom Johnson, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.

Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Short.

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