Planet Rugby

Preview: Exeter v Northampton

07th February 2014 11:11

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dave ewers exeter chiefs

Blindside: Dave Ewers

The top flight returns in earnest on Saturday with the Exeter Chiefs ready to welcome high-flying Northampton Saints to Sandy Park.

It's the start of a crucial four-week block that sees the Chiefs play host to the Saints and Bath over the next fortnight, before they travel to table-topping Saracens and then face London Irish on home soil.

According to director of rugby Rob Baxter, though, these are "exciting" times and he is hopeful that his team can pull together to deliver a string of results that catapult them back amongst the division's leading four.

"All-in-all it's an exciting time for us," said Baxter.

"This block of games, as tough as it is, also holds some promise for us because we're not far off where we've been in our best seasons and we know we're capable of putting runs of wins together late in seasons.

"Our target is to make sure we perform well on Saturday and deserve to get something out of the game. We'll go from there and roll into the next few weeks. That said, we have to deal with the way Northampton can put you under pressure with the way they play and put things in our own hands."

In the pack, skipper Dean Mumm and Dave Ewers both return to the fray, whilst behind Phil Dollman comes into the centre.

On the bench, Tom Johnson - released by England earlier this week - is included, alongside the returning Don Armand and Fetu'u Vainikolo.

Meanwhile, Northampton welcome seven players back into the starting line-up for Saturday's return at Exeter.

The Saints travel to Sandy Park with three of the club's four England Saxons in the ranks, with Alex Waller, Calum Clark and Sam Dickinson all coming straight into the team following their exploits against the Irish Wolfhounds and Scotland 'A'.

Stephen Myler and Christian Day make the step up from the replacements' bench to fly-half and the second row respectively, while Salesi Ma'afu and Phil Dowson both return after missing last weekend's win over Saracens.

Ethan Waller, Gareth Denman, GJ Van Velze, Ben Nutley and Will Hooley all stay in the matchday 23 after helping the Saints reach the LV= Cup semi-finals.

Northampton have won seven away games in a row following their 13-19 reversal at Castres in the European Cup in October. The Chiefs, though, have won just once in their last five rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby action - 16-3 at home to Newcastle on December 21. The Chiefs have won only two of their last five matches at Sandy Park in all tournaments while the Saints have recorded eight successive victories since their loss to Leinster at Franklin's Gardens in the European Cup in December. Exeter's only previous victory over Northampton in the Aviva Premiership came at Sandy Park in March 2011 and Saints hooker Mike Haywood is looking to continue their fine record.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Phil Dollman, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Alex Brown, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 Don Armand, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo

Northampton: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 GJ Van Velze, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Alex Day, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Fa'atoina Auagavaia

Date: Saturday, February 8
Venue: Sandy Park
Kickoff: 19:00 GMT
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees:Andrew Pearce, Kelvin Stewart
TMO: Ashley Rowden

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