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

Saints beat Exeter at Franklin's Gardens in December
Saints beat Exeter at Franklin's Gardens in December

Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

Competition: Gallagher Premiership (round 22)

Venue: Sandy Park, Exeter

Date and kick-off time: Saturday, May 18, 2019, 4pm

Television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Karl Dickson (19th Premiership game)

Exeter Chiefs: Nowell; Cuthbert, Slade, Devoto, Woodburn; J Simmonds, White; Hepburn, Yeandle (c), Williams; Dennis, J Hill; Ewers, Armand, Kvesic.

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Moon, Francis, Skinner, S Simmonds, Maunder, Steenson, S Hill.

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Biggar, Reinach; Waller (c), Marshall, Hill; Moon, Lawes; Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison.

Replacements: Fish, van Wyk, Franks, Ribbans, Wood, Mitchell, Grayson, Burrell.

Outs: Saints: Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Mike Haywood (knee), Paddy Ryan (knee), Heinrich Brüssow (concussion), James Haskell (toe), George Furbank (concussion).

Most recent meeting: Friday, December 28, 2018: Saints 31 Exeter 28 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: At every stage of the season, Saints would have taken the position they sit in now.

Having timed their charge perfectly, Chris Boyd's men are now in possession of fourth place in the Gallagher Premiership.

And if they are still there by 6pm on Saturday, they will have a play-off semi-final to look forward to seven days later.

It would be a remarkable achievement should they make it happen.

Not because they have a lowly group of players who a fourth-placed finish shouldn't be expected of.

The squad is clearly good enough.

But because of the situation Boyd inherited last summer.

He picked up a team that had just said goodbye to several of its longest-serving players.

It was a team severely lacking in confidence after a tortuous campaign that saw the club finish ninth in England's top tier.

Boyd and his new-look coaching team immediately tried to implement a fresh game plan.

And after plenty of expected stumbles and a plethora of injury issues as the learning process continued, they have really started to click in recent months.

Wins away to Leicester, Harlequins and Newcastle not only showcased their quality but their character, too.

And they will need both of those things in abundance if they are to get the win they want at Sandy Park on Saturday.

But if they fail to prevail and Harlequins win at Wasps, Saints can still look back with immense pride on a season that has seen them return to the upper echelons of the game.

They are guaranteed a Champions Cup place for next season, but how they would love a play-off spot, too.

And with the way they have played of late, you certainly wouldn't put it past them.

The progress at the club has been clear, and the confidence is there for all to see.

Whatever happens this weekend, it is obvious Saints are now moving in the right direction.

And how fitting it would be if they now move into the play-offs before the month is out.

Tom's prediction: Exeter 27 Saints 18