Preview: Exeter v Northampton

Date published: March 18 2016

Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has made several changes to his starting line-up for Sunday's clash with Northampton at Sandy Park.

Despite collecting a maximum haul against Newcastle last time out, the Chiefs have tinkered with 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.

Buoyed by last weekend’s victory over the 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.”

Meanwhile, Northampton bos Jim Mallinder has made four changes to the one that claimed a bonus point win over Sale last weekend.

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 this encounter.

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.

Form: Exeter Chiefs only defeat in their last four Premiership 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 the Premiership 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 21 February. Exeter’s only two victories over Northampton in their last nine Premiership clashes both came last season. The Saints' record in the tournament at Sandy Park is an impressive won three, lost two.

The teams:

Exeter: 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 (c), 1 Ben Moon 
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Lachie Turner

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Lee Dickson (c), 8 Jonathan Fisher, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Teimana Harrison, 5 Christian Day, 4 James Craig, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller 
Replacements: 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

Date: Sunday, March 20
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Geoff Warren