Tom Vickers' Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints (Aviva Premiership - round 17)
Date/kick-off time: Sunday, March 20, 1pm
Weather forecast: 9C, mostly cloudy
Referee: Greg Garner
Outs: Saints: Clark (shoulder), Hartley, Brookes, North (international duty).
Exeter Chiefs: Dollman; Woodburn, Slade, Whitten, Short; Steenson, Lewis; Moon, Yeandle (c), Williams; Atkins, Parling; Ewers, Armand, Waldrom. Replacements: Taione, Hepburn, Rimmer, Stevenson, Salvi, Chudley, Hill, Turner.
Saints: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, Tuala; Hanrahan, Dickson (c); A Waller, Haywood, Hill; Craig, Day; Gibson, Harrison, Fisher. Replacements: Marshall, E Waller, Denman, Matfield, Wood, Fotuali’i, Myler, Wilson.
Most recent meeting: Friday, January 1: Saints 8 Exeter Chiefs 3 (Aviva Premiership - round eight)
Tom’s preview: Anyone for a double?
On Sunday, Saints get the chance to back up their New Year’s Day victory against Exeter Chiefs.
And in doing so, they would shed an unwanted record.
So far this season, Jim Mallinder’s men have failed to beat any Aviva Premiership team twice.
In recent weeks, they have taken on the role of avengers, slaying the likes of London Irish, Worcester, Saracens and Sale Sharks, all of whom wronged them earlier in the campaign.
But on Sunday, Saints will need to do the opposite and instead hammer home a victory they earned earlier in the campaign.
They gritted their teeth, rolled up their sleeves and ground Exeter into the Franklin’s Gardens mud on the first day of 2016, with Mike Haywood’s score so crucial.
And now they will be asked to back that performance up.
To show that dominance tastes just as sweet as revenge.
If they can do that, Saints, who did achieve doubles against Glasgow Warriors and Scarlets in Europe, will still have an outside chance of a top-two spot.
Earning a home play-off semi-final has seemed so unlikely this season, but Mallinder’s men now appear to have wiped away their early-season woes.
By avenging those defeats to the likes of London Irish and Worcester they have banished a few demons.
And how they would love to put a little doubt in the mind of the Chiefs this weekend.
Because if Saints do finish in the top four and have to go to Exeter in the play-offs in May, they would love to do it knowing they had already won there this season.
It would give them the kind of psychological edge they enjoyed a couple of years ago when they made it three successive league wins at Sandy Park.
In recent times, it has been less of a happy hunting ground, with the Chiefs winning the past two meetings with Saints on west country soil.
That included an LV= Cup final success in March, 2014, when Rob Baxter’s men simply suffocated their opponents.
They were at it again in the league game there last season, and there is no doubting the improvements of Exeter.
They have grown into a real force since winning promotion in 2010 and harbour realistic title hopes this time round.
But so do Saints.
If they want to keep the dream alive, they will have to assert their authority in the coming weeks.
And an Exeter double would be some way to do it.
Tom’s prediction: Exeter 21 Saints 14