Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs

Saints battled past Worcester at Sixways last Friday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints battled past Worcester at Sixways last Friday (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 11)

Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Friday, December 28, 2018, 7.45pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Ian Tempest

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Burrell, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (cc), Hartley (cc), Hill; Ribbans, Lawes; Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Marshall, van Wyk, Franks, Ratuniyarawa, Brüssow, Mitchell, Dingwall.

Exeter Chiefs: Simmonds; Cordero, Whitten, Devoto, O'Flaherty; Steenson (c), Maunder; Moon, Taione, Williams; Lees, Skinner; Lonsdale, Armand, Kvesic.

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Hepburn, Francis, Hill, Lawday, White, Slade, Dollman.

Outs: Saints: Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mike Haywood (knee).

Most recent meeting: Saturday, February 24, 2018: Exeter Chiefs 31 Saints 30 (Premiership)

Tom's preview: The time between Christmas and New Year can often feel a little flat - but that certainly won't be the case at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

Because the stadium will welcome a full house of fans, the majority of whom will be hoping for a post-Christmas special in the form of a Saints win against Exeter.

It would be the kind of statement success that would be so welcome for the new era at Northampton.

But challenges don't come much, if any, bigger in England's top tier.

Exeter have grown into a formidable force over recent seasons, as they showed once again last weekend when they brushed aside title rivals Saracens.

That Sandy Park display was another hugely impressive illustration of what Rob Baxter's men are capable of.

But that will only have served to whet Saints' appetite further.

And if there's one thing we have learned about the men in black, green and gold this season is they they are predictably unpredictable.

At the beginning of the season, you always felt they would win some matches they were expected to lose, and lose some matches they were expected to win.

That has certainly been the case, and they will hope that trend continues tonight.

But if they are to ensure it does, they will somehow have to deal with Exeter's immense physicality.

Saints struggled at scrum time against Worcester last week and if the same occurs against Exeter, they will not be let off the hook like they were at Sixways.

The Warriors wasted possession time and again, with Saints defending strongly as they produced a stirring away performance.

It has given them some momentum going into this game and as long as they haven't put on a plethora of pounds from their Christmas Day off, they will face Exeter in good shape.

Whether that will be enough remains to be seen.

But whatever happens in the final game of a turbulent 2018, it is clear that this club is now moving forward under the guidance of boss Chris Boyd.

And that is all anyone of a Northampton persuasion can ask for ahead of the new year.

Tom's prediction: Saints 13 Exeter 27