Christian Day admits Exeter Chiefs are now ‘very much the real deal’.
And the experienced lock is looking forward to locking horns with them as Saints bid to get revenge for last season’s double disappointment at the hands of Rob Baxter’s men.
Exeter beat Northampton home and away during the previous campaign and have been getting better and better each season.
They are currently second in the Aviva Premiership, having won six of their seven matches so far.
And ahead of Friday’s game against the Chiefs at Franklin’s Gardens, Day said: “They’re a fantastic team.
“They’ve developed over the past four or five years in the Premiership and they’re very much the real deal now.
“They were unlucky to miss out on top four last season and they’re top four now.
“We’ll have our work cut out against them but we’ve prepared well and we’re looking forward to it.”
The improvement of teams such as Exeter has meant the Premiership is more competitive than ever this season.
The likes of Saints, Bath and Wasps currently find themselves outside of the top four, with Jim Mallinder’s men already having lost to Worcester, Sale and London Irish.
“With the expansion of the salary cap and teams like Exeter performing well off the pitch, depth is going to increase across the board,” Day said.
“Exeter used to be a team who were more than the sum of their parts, but now they’re the real deal.
“They’re a fantastic team with some star performers in there and they’ve got a fantastic coach in Rob Baxter.
“The depth in the Premiership now is pretty high, as London Irish showed last weekend.”
And on avenging last season’s defeats to the Chiefs, Day added: “They beat us on our patch last year and they beat us at their place so they got one up on us and we need to put that right.
“We’ll be looking to do that, as we do every week, and we don’t like to lose at home.
“We’ll be ready for the challenges that Exeter are going to bring.”