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Preview: Northampton v Exeter

06th September 2013 10:26

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George North

Full Saints debut: George North

Northampton Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder has named three debutants in the Saints team to face Exeter Chiefs in the opening round of the Premiership at Franklin's Gardens.

Alex Corbisiero and George North both make their first competitive starts for the home side. The third debutant is Sam Dickinson, whose first season was ruined by injury but who has impressed during the pre-season friendlies.

There could also be debuts for scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i and prop Gareth Denman, who are both named on the bench.

Dickinson signed for the Saints in early 2012 from Rotherham, but sustained an arm injury in the Titans' Championship play-offs campaign which ruled him out of contention until early 2013. He spent the final few weeks of 2012/13 in Moseley's colours as a dual registered player, while also playing for the Northampton second team.

The 28-year-old number eight has played in all four of the Saints' pre-season matches, and led the side for the away game at Moseley.

Corbisiero and North have both attracted the majority of the headlines this summer, but Mallinder says he is particularly delighted for Dickinson.

"Sam had a frustrating first year with us, so I'm very happy that he's now in a position where he is ready to play for the first team," commented Mallinder.

"He is a talented and committed player who has shown his qualities during the pre-season, and he's very keen to take that forward in the Aviva Premiership.

"There's been a lot of competition for places for tomorrow's game, and there were plenty of disappointed players when the team was announced. So it's important that the 23 who we've selected show why they deserve their place in the match day squad and put in a good performance against Exeter."

Meanwhile, Exeter have adopt a familiar look to their starting line-up, even though playing resources have been bolstered. Of the newcomers brought in by Rob Baxter during the close season, only Welsh winger Tom James starts.

The former Cardiff Blues flyer has been in impressive form during the pre-season and his three tries in as many games have certainly brought him to the attention of Baxter and his fellow coaches.

Elsewhere, Aussie international Dean Mumm skippers the Chiefs for the first time in the Premiership from the second-row, whilst Dave Ewers is given the task of taking over the number eight jersey for the first time since the retirement of the long-serving Richard Baxter. Behind, a finger injury sustained against Glasgow means Luke Arscott is sidelined, so Phil Dollman takes over at full-back in his absence.

On the bench, centre Sam Hill - fresh from helping England's Under-20s to Junior World Championship success in France - is included in a Premiership squad for the first time; whilst Dave Lewis is another new addition following his move from Gloucester.

With the Chiefs keen to build on another impressive year last term, Baxter refuses to set too many long-term targets for either his team or his players. Instead, the aim initially for tomorrow is to ensure the "nuts and bolts" of his side's performance are in place and then to assess what happens afterwards.

"The way I structure what we want to do here is that what comes at the end of the season will come," he said.

"What I want the players to be concentrating on is what they have to do now and how we want to develop the team that potentially means we move the club forward.

"If that means that down the line we push ourselves into the top four that'll be fantastic, but for me it's not about saying our only target is the top four or top half, it doesn't work like that.

"The way it works is you get what you deserve. We have to make sure we deserve to keep collecting points on a regular basis during the season. I haven't sat down and worked out how many points we need to possibly be in the top four. What's more important is how we move the side forward individually and collectively."

Form: Northampton Saints have begun the Aviva Premiership Rugby season with victory in round one for the past six seasons but have not managed maximum points in their opening fixture since 2004. The Saints have won three of their last four matches at Franklin's Gardens. Exeter Chiefs have never been defeated in their three previous round one fixtures in the Premiership, beating Gloucester, Leicester and Sale in successive seasons. The Chiefs finished off last season with four consecutive wins. The Saints' won both Premiership encounters with Exeter last season, although the Chiefs did win their Anglo-Welsh Cup meeting at Sandy Park 28-19 in February. Exeter have lost on all four previous visits to Franklin's Gardens in all competitions.

The teams:

Northampton Saints 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 James Wilson, 23 Jamie Elliott.

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Tom Hayes, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Sam Hill.

Date: Saturday, September 7
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 15.00 BST (14.00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle

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4Exeter26
5Northampton26