Fixture: Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs (Aviva Premiership round seven)
Date/kick-off time: Friday, November 14, 7.45pm
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Weather forecast: 8C, clear
Saints: Foden; Elliott, Stephenson, Burrell, Collins; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Ma’afu; Manoa, Day; Clark, Nutley, Dowson (c).
Replacements: McMillan, E Waller, Denman, Woolford, Harrison, Hodgson, Wilson, Waldouck.
Exeter: Dollman; Nowell, Slade, Hill, Jess; Steenson, Chudley; Rimmer, Yeandle, Francis; Mumm (c), Welch; White, Armand, Waldrom.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Moon, Low, Caldwell, Horstmann Thomas, Whitten, McGuigan.
Outs: Saints: Corbisiero (shoulder), G Pisi (hamstring), Dickinson (neck), Fisher (toe), Fotuali’i, K Pisi, Hartley, Lawes, Wood, North (all international duty).
Exeter Chiefs: Chrysander Botha (leg), Tom Johnson (neck), Fetu’u Vainikolo, Elvis Taione (international duty)
Most recent meeting: Sunday, March 16: Exeter Chiefs 15 Saints 8
Tom’s preview: The period known as ‘silly season’ has officially started at Franklin’s Gardens, with transfer rumours swirling around Franklin’s Gardens like a sobering winter wind.
Player movement is always a subject that captures the imagination of supporters as they mentally conjure up their ideal side for the next campaign.
There is the inevitable anxiety about who may be leaving, and the unbridled excitement of who may be coming in.
This week has mainly been about the former, with key man Samu Manoa confirmed as in talks with French clubs, and Dylan Hartley and George Pisi also linked with moves.
Such has been the level of speculation, it has almost been easy to forget that there is actually a top-of-the-table clash at the Gardens on Friday night.
But, if anything, that game, against third-placed Exeter Chiefs, could be said to have taken on added significance.
Because it is another sizeable chance for players to stand up and be counted in the heat of the Aviva Premiership battle.
To once again show that Saints can cope without some of their biggest names.
And if some star men do move on next summer - at the moment it must be remembered that nothing is set in stone - players have a chance to stake their claim for regular slots in the side.
Saints have a reputation of giving youth a chance.
Of developing players who become internationals.
So youngsters like Tom Stephenson and Mike Haywood have been given opportunities to show what they can do.
And both have already illustrated their burgeoning potential with big first-team performances.
Hooker Haywood, for example, started the Premiership semi-final and final wins last season, as well as the Amlin Challenge Cup showpiece success.
Centre Stephenson shot to prominence with some dazzling side-stepping, culminating in tries that lit up the campaign.
Now they get another chance to hammer home their claims - a shot at getting a run of games, with Pisi out injured and Hartley away with England.
It is a huge responsibility, with Exeter and Saracens lying in wait in the next two weeks, but it is one they must shoulder, as they have done before.
A victory against Exeter would be another impressive statement of intent from Saints, who currently sit at the summit after starting the season in style.
The champions have shown their class, with five wins from six games, but Exeter, as ever, will pose a threat.
They are a team no one wants to face during international windows because they possess a group of players who perhaps don’t get the recognition they deserve.
They lose few to Test duty, but have the kind of calibre that has catapulted the club into the upper echelons of the current league table.
But for Saints, these are the challenges they have made a habit of dealing with in recent times.
With the side packed with star quality - there are plenty of England players on show - they have the ability to get the job done on home turf once more.
And the likes of Stephenson, Haywood and Ben Nutley can ensure supporters are salivating about the players coming through, rather than those coming in.
Tom’s prediction: Saints 18 Exeter Chiefs 15