Tom Vickers' Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints preview

Saints suffered an agonising defeat to Saracens at Stadium MK (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints suffered an agonising defeat to Saracens at Stadium MK (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 21)

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, April 29, 2017, 3pm

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Exeter Chiefs: Turner; Nowell, Whitten, Devoto, Woodburn; Steenson, Townsend; Rimmer, Yeandle (c), Holmes; Dennis, Parling; Ewers, Armand, Horstmann.

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Moon, Williams, Atkins, Salvi, Chudley, Simmonds, Hill.

Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Burrell, Mallinder, Foden; Hanrahan, Groom; A Waller, Hartley, Brookes; Lawes, Ribbans; Gibson, Wood (c), Harrison.

Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Dickinson, Dickson, Tuitavake, Estelles.

Outs: Saints: Stephen Myler (knee), Calum Clark (calf)

Referee: JP Doyle

Most recent meeting: Friday, September 30, 2016: Saints 20 Exeter Chiefs 19 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom's preview: Saints have come agonisingly close to conquering their top-seven rivals in recent weeks and months.

But, when push has come to shove, they have always ended up on the canvas, wondering where it all went wrong.

Jim Mallinder's men have played some swashbuckling rugby, the like of which they have not showcased for many a year.

But the end result has so often been the same: gut-wrenching defeat.

And at Sandy Park this weekend, they will look to turn the narrowest of defeats into the most important of wins.

Because if they can prevail at a place that has been an unhappy hunting ground in recent seasons, they will be in the box seat going into the final-day fixture against Harlequins.

So much pressure would be relieved if they can somehow squeeze past the Chiefs on Saturday afternoon.

So much joy there would be if the winning habit returned to the Saints dressing room.

And how rewarding it would feel if a big performance provided the points the team deserve.

Saints have played a total of 10 games against the rest of the Aviva Premiership top seven so far this season.

They have won just once.

But if they want a good omen heading to Sandy Park, it is that the one win they did claim came against Exeter at the Gardens back in September.

On that occasion, Saints were inflicting late heartache rather than receiving it.

Harry Mallinder's cool kick provided a win that Saints hoped would kick-start their season.

It didn't really happen that way as they headed to Harlequins on the following weekend and produced one of their poorest displays of the campaign.

How they need it to be different in the next two weeks.

They can't afford a poor performance against Quins next weekend.

And they certainly can't afford a poor performance at Exeter this weekend.

Nothing less than Saints' attacking best will be needed to slay the Chiefs.

But Mallinder's men must also find the defensive resilience they have been lacking as well as the belief that they can put a very good side to the sword.

If they can do that, they will reap the rewards the desire.

If they can't, it will be more match-day misery for Mallinder's men and their supporters.

Tom's prediction: Exeter 25 Saints 20