The Northampton Saints team has been named for Friday’s Premiership Round five home game against Exeter Chiefs.
Calum Clark is in line for his first Premiership action since the 2015 semi-final against Saracens, the flanker having missed the whole of last season. But after impressing in his two run-outs in the ‘A’ League Clark has been brought into the back-row that will face the visitors from the south west.
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs Rob Baxter says it’s vital his side look to build on the momentum they have generated in recent weeks when they travel to Northampton Saints.
Having recovered from opening losses to Wasps and Saracens, the mood at Sandy Park has changed considerably in the past fortnight after the Chiefs collected maximum hauls from their last two outings against Harlequins and Bristol.
Those victories have helped to lift the Devonians into fifth spot, much to the satisfaction of Baxter who is hopeful his players can continue their fine form with another big display against the Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
"The boys are looking in a good place, both physically and mentally, and things look a lot more comfortable when you look at our league position," explained Baxter. "Collecting ten points in ten days feels good, but now we have add to that momentum we’ve generated."
Traditionally a trip to the Gardens is one of the toughest on the league calendar, but the Chiefs have triumphed there in the past and Baxter is hopeful of another positive result from his troops ahead of their latest Premiership battle.
"We know it’s a tough fixture away from home against a top four side," said Baxter. "That said, I think we’re all really looking forward to it. The mood of the guys and the way they’ve trained this week has been very positive and it’s one of those fixtures that gives you a real opportunity to testing yourself as not only a player, but also as a team as well.
"Yes, we’re aware Northampton will be hurting after the Wasps game last week, but we have to take advantage of that. It means we have to go up there and play well, start well and keep some real pressure on them.
"In a lot of ways that’s almost the most important thing to take into the game – making sure you start well and put pressure on the opposition.
"If you look at the last time we played against what you’d describe as a top side, which was Saracens down here a few weeks ago, that is exactly what we didn’t do in the first 10, 15 minutes. We allowed them to dominate, get 12-0 up, and in turn get comfortable about the way they wanted to play.
"We’ve talked about that this week, so our first battle to win on Friday is to start well."
Team news for the Chiefs sees Baxter make four changes to the pack which started at Bristol a week ago. In the front-row, Ben Moon and Jack Yeandle start in place of Alec Hepburn and Luke Cowan-Dickie. Geoff Parling is given the nod over Damian Welch at lock, while Kai Horstmann gets his first start of the season with Julian Salvi the man to miss out.
In the back division, the sole change sees England international Ollie Devoto start in the midfield alongside Henry Slade with Sam Hill dropping to the bench, which includes for the first time this season Ben White and Jack Nowell.
Form: Northampton Saints’ only victory in the first four rounds of the Premiership was on their visit to Bristol in Round 2. The Saints have narrowly lost both fixtures at Franklin’s Gardens this season but have not lost three in a row at the venue in the Premiership since February 2011. Exeter Chiefs have beaten Harlequins at home and Bristol away in Rounds 3 and 4 of the Premiership, but have not managed to win successive away games in the competition since December 2015. Exeter Chiefs have lost only one of their last four Premiership encounters with Saints: 8-3 in this equivalent fixture at Franklin’s Gardens on New Year’s Day. Exeter’s solitary win in their eight previous visits to Northampton in competitive rugby was 24-18 in Premiership Rugby in November 2014.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden(c), 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller,
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Ahsee Tuala
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle(c), 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Jack Nowell
Date: Friday, 30 September
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 19:45 (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey, Simon McConnell
TMO: Graham Hughes