Preview: Exeter v Northampton

Date published: April 20 2012

Exeter will use the confidence gained from recent Premiership wins as their attacking springboard for their clash with Saints.

Exeter will use the confidence gained from recent Aviva Premiership wins as the attacking springboard for Sunday's meeting with Northampton.

Having moved back into the top four – leapfrogging the Saints along the way – following last weekend's last-gasp victory over Worcester Warriors, the Chiefs know they are within touching distance of booking themselves a place in the end of season play-offs.

For that to happen, however, the Devon club must not only see off Jim Mallinder's outfit, but at the same time prevent their rivals from securing any kind of bonus point from their travels.

Currently the Chiefs – who last weekend secured Heineken Cup rugby for the first time in the club's history – lead the Saints by two points in the standings after the East Midlanders came unstuck on home soil to in-form Leicester Tigers.

Up against his former club, assistant coach Ali Hepher admits he is relishing this weekend's match-up and believes the Chiefs have what it takes to “kick on” and achieve even greater things this term

“We want to progress,” he said.

“We feel we are in form; the guys are training well and it's an exciting opportunity for us to try and take. Securing Heineken Cup rugby for next season is fantastic, but let's kick on and see if we can do even better.”

Team news for the Chiefs sees head coach Rob Baxter recall Kiwi centre Jason Shoemark back into the midfield alongside Bryan Rennie, so Phil Dollman reverts back to full-back and Luke Arscott is the man who makes way. On the bench, the sole change sees Welsh international Craig Mitchell return at the expense of former Saints favourite Chris Budgen.

Although Budgen misses out, another former Northampton man, Brett Sturgess, is included after making his 100th league appearance for the Chiefs last Saturday. That feat will be matched tomorrow by skipper Tom Hayes, whilst number eight Richard Baxter will be running out for his 350th league appearance in Exeter colours.

Meanwhile, Saints director of rugby Mallinder was full of praise for Exeter when naming his team for the Aviva Premiership Round 21 clash at Sandy Park.

The Saints and Chiefs go head-to-head in the race for fourth place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table, and the end of season play-off place which comes with it, with Mallinder acknowledging that the home team will be full of confidence when the action gets underway on Sunday afternoon.

“Rob Baxter and his coaches have done very well to lead Exeter to be challenging for a play-off spot this season,” Mallinder said this week.

“He has created plenty of team spirit in a squad that is prepared to play all the way to the final whistle, as they showed at Worcester last weekend.

“They have turned Sandy Park into something of a fortress in their two years in Aviva Premiership Rugby and are probably favourites for Sunday's game.

“However this means that the only pressure we are under is what we create for ourselves. We have trained well this week and there is plenty of determination to put right the wrongs of last Saturday afternoon. All the players have a point to prove and there is a positive mood ahead of our trip to Exeter.

“We know what the match means to the club and our supporters, and we will be putting in every effort to get the win that we all want.”

Form: Exeter Chiefs have won six of their last seven matches in Aviva Premiership Rugby including four victories in a row, whilst victory over Saints would guarantee them a first ever semi-final spot. Northampton Saints have won just two of their last five away games in all competitions and must prevent the Chiefs winning this game if they are to keep their own hopes of a playoff spot alive. Exeter's only competitive victory over Northampton came in this equivalent fixture at Sandy Park last season.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Bryan Rennie, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Tom Hayes (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Chris Budgen, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Ben White, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sireli Naqelevuki.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Paul Diggin, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson (capt), 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 4 Mark Sorenson, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Andy Long, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Tom May.

Date: Sunday, April 22
Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Venue: Sandy Park
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant referees: Ashley Rowden, Paul Dix
Television match official: Geoff Warren