Preview: Exeter v Northampton

Date published: April 12 2015

The Premiership leaders battle a playoff contender on Sunday when Exeter Chiefs host Northampton Saints on Sunday.

Fortunes varied for these two in Europe last weekend, with Northampton suffering one of the more miserable defeats in recent history when Clermont tore them to shreds at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

How they react to that setback will be fascinating – will there be lingering effects from a 37-5 thumping where Northampton simply couldn't get going, or will the squad be so fired up that they come out and deliver one of their best performances of the season?

Travelling to Sandy Park is one of the tougher fixtures on offer in English rugby right now.

Easily surpassing pre-season expectations, the Chiefs are fifth but just three points behind second-placed Saracens heading into the final stretch.

Henry Slade has been the standout young performer of the campaign, which is a pretty phenomenal accolade when taking into account the efforts of Elliot Daly, Christian Wade and also George Ford, but in ousting Gareth Steenson from the starting line-up Slade has accumulated enough valuable minutes and starts to push himself into the frame as a Rugby World Cup bolter.

Sunday will see the league's top try scorer in Thomas Waldrom (13) face off against the top points scorer in Stephen Myler (190) with both set to play a pivotal role as time starts to really run out to make the top four.

Northampton might be ten points clear of Saracens but they still need a big performance to silence any doubters after last weekend's implosion.

Exeter are boosted by the return of both Phil Dollman and Jack Nowell to the back division, whilst up front Rob Baxter names an unchanged pack from that which saw off the Falcons in last weekend’s Challenge Cup quarter-final.

On the bench, Moray Low’s hamstring injury means Alex Brown is the tighthead option, whilst there is a first-ever inclusion in the top flight for highly-rated Academy youngster Sam Skinner.

Meanwhile, the Saints head to Sandy Park unbeaten in the Premiership since mid-January and have made three changes to the starting line-up to that which faced Clermont Auvergne last weekend.

Kahn Fotuali’i comes in for Lee Dickson at scrum-half, with Gareth Denman and Christian Day replacing Salesi Ma’afu and Courtney Lawes respectively in the pack.

Form: Exeter Chiefs' 25-18 defeat at Leicester in the last round of Premiership Rugby ended a four-game winning run and dropped the Chiefs from second to fifth on the table. Exeter have lost only once at Sandy Park in any tournaments since September: 26-25 to Gloucester in Premiership Rugby on 3rd January. Northampton Saints' solo victory in their last four encounters in all tournaments was 52-30 over Wasps at Franklin's Gardens in Aviva Premiership Rugby on March 27. The Saints only defeat on the road in Premiership Rugby since round 2 came at Sale on January 10. The Chiefs beat Saints 24-18 at Franklin's Gardens in Round 7 and have never before achieved a season's double over the East Midlanders.

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Jack Nowell, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Mitch Lees, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Tom James.

Northampton Saints: 15 James Wilson, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Gareth Denman, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero.

Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Jon Fisher, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Tom Stephenson, 23 Ahsee Tuala.

Date: Sunday, April 12
Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff, Paul Burton
TMO: Geoff Warren