Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' match preview

Christian Day captains Saints at Sandy Park (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Christian Day captains Saints at Sandy Park (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

Competition: Aviva Premiership

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, February 24, 2018, 2pm

Television coverage: None

Referee: Christophe Ridley (4th Premiership game)

Exeter Chiefs: Turner; Whitten, Devoto, S Hill, Woodburn; Steenson (c), Chudley; Hepburn, Cowan-Dickie, Holmes; Skinner, J Hill; Armand, Salvi, Waldrom.
Replacements: Innard, Moon, Street, Lees, Kvesic, Townsend, S Simmonds, Dollman.

Saints: Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; Ma'afu, Haywood, Brookes; Ribbans, Day (c); Gibson, Brüssow, Harrison.
Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Wood, Reinach, Myler, Tuitavake.

Outs: Alex Waller (arm), James Craig (knee)

Most recent meeting: Saturday, December 23, 2017: Saints 14 Exeter Chiefs 35 (Aviva Premiership)

Tom's preview: It is a daunting final four for Saints as they look to end their long wait for an Aviva Premiership away win.

After Saturday's game at Exeter, they must travel to Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers and Wasps.

Those are some of the toughest stages on which to perform in the Premiership this season.

But perform is what Saints will have to do if they are to live up to their own expectations of pushing for a top-six finish.

That looks a tough ask but, with no threat of relegation - there never really was anyway - they should at least be able to play with freedom.

And as they showed during the halcyon days of last September, when they have liberty, they look dangerous.

Saints can be a potent attacking force given belief and an astute game plan.

And that is the minimum they will require if they are to end their run of five successive Sandy Park defeats this Saturday.

It was such a happy hunting ground a few years ago, but it is no longer.

Saints have struggled on Exeter soil in recent seasons, failing to win there since the double-winning campaign of 2013/14.

Not only have they failed to prevail, they have often been on the end of heavy defeats, including a 43-28 reverse in the Anglo-Welsh Cup back in November.

Exeter scored seven tries on that sobering afternoon and the Chiefs will seek similar home comfort this weekend.

But Saints can draw confidence from recent events in the west country.

Their former players, Ethan Waller and GJ van Velze, helped Worcester to claim an historic win at Sandy Park just two weeks ago.

That 6-5 success was wonderful for the Warriors and how sweet it would be for Saints if they could mastermind a similar triumph.

It is a tough ask, but all Saints can do is go out and try to enjoy the rest of their season.

And they would certainly enjoy it so much more if they can claim a couple of overdue away wins along the way.

Tom's prediction: Exeter 28 Saints 18