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

Fixture: Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs

By Tom Vickers
Friday, 25th February 2022, 12:37 pm
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 12:39 pm

Competition: Gallagher Premiership

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton

Date and kick-off time: Sunday, February 27, 2022, 1pm

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Sam Matavesi starts at seven for Saints against Exeter

Weather forecast: 8c, sunny

Live television coverage: BT Sport 1

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

Saints: Furbank; Skosan, Proctor, Dingwall (c), Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Iyogun, Haywood, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Coles, Matavesi, Wilkins.

Replacements: Fish, Waller, Hill, Moon, Nansen, Tonks, James, Francis.

Exeter Chiefs: Hodge; Woodburn, Whitten, Hendrickson, O'Flaherty; J Simmonds, S Maunder; Hepburn, Innard, Schicklerling; Kirsten, Jenkins; Ewers, Capstick, Grondona.

Replacements: Yeandle, Kenny, Street, Pearson, Norey, J Maunder H Skinner, Cordero.

Not considered for Saints selection: Matthew Arden, Emeka Atuanya, Juarno Augustus, Tommy Freeman, Jake Garside, Teimana Harrison, Oisín Heffernan, Rory Hutchinson, Tom Lockett, Lewis Ludlam, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Sleightholme, Kayde Sylvester, Tom Wood.

International duty: Dan Biggar, Courtney Lawes, Ethan Grayson.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, September 25, 2021: Exeter Chiefs 24 Saints 26 (Gallagher Premiership)

Tom's preview: For some reason, games against Exeter always seem to have a little extra meaning for Saints.

Maybe it's because the Chiefs have been one of the best sides in England during recent years.

Or maybe it's because Saints have played them in knockout matches in domestic and European action in the modern era.

Whatever it is, it feels like clashes with Rob Baxter's side are typically significant.

And this weekend's game at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens will be no different.

Such is the current state of the Gallagher Premiership table that every point matters.

And every point seems to count double if you get it from one of your many play-off rivals.

There are just six points separating Gloucester in fourth from Saints in ninth.

And those two teams will meet at Kingsholm next Saturday.

Every weekend feels like a real event, and every slip seems so problematic.

Saints felt that pain last Saturday as they fell to a 22-21 defeat at home to another top-four chasing team, Sale Sharks.

Chris Boyd's side should have won that match, probably with a bonus point in the bag.

They scored three tries and went 21-15 up in a largely dominant display, but they failed to kill the Sharks off and they were bitten 20 minutes from time when a high ball was dropped and Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored.

There was still a chance to put things right with pressure building on Sale late on.

But George Furbank's tricky late penalty attempt drifted wide and the Sharks were able to head home with a crucial win to their name.

Now Saints are really getting into must-win territory as they seek to keep their hopes alive.

Not only did Sale go above them last weekend, but Exeter too.

And the Chiefs, who have endured a similarly mixed campaign to Saints, are formidable opponents whenever you face them.

They will have plenty of Six Nations stars missing this weekend, and they only just got over the line against 14-man Newcastle Falcons last Sunday.

But Saints have a huge number of absences of their own and they certainly won't be underestimating a team they beat 26-24 earlier in the season, thanks to a Furbank penalty.

Both sides know just how vital this game, and every other game from here on in, will be.

And it will be about who can hold their nerve the best while display their squad depth in the process.

Saints will have to plug the holes that have sunk them during the past two weeks.

At Leicester they were far from physical enough and were made to pay.

They ramped up the power against Sale but then saw accuracy cost them so dear.

And any less than a complete overall performance this weekend will leave them staring down the barrel again.

Tom's prediction: Both of these sides are without a huge number of key players this weekend so it will be about who can adjust best and who gets the mindset right. Saints have to win, and I'm backing them to just about get the job done. Saints 25 Exeter Chiefs 23.