Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs, Aviva Premiership, October 8
Saints out to stop the rot
October 4, 2011
Northampton's Jon Clarke tested the Worcester defence last weekend © Getty Images
Northampton Saints retreat to Franklin's Garden in search of only their second win of the season against Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
The Saints have endured defeats to Worcester and Sale Sharks on the road in recent weeks which has left them in the unfamiliar territory of the bottom two in the Aviva Premiership table. Last season's Heineken Cup runners-up are suffering without their international contingent and their only win of the season came in the opening fixture at home to Gloucester.
The Chiefs, in contrast, have hit their straps early. Three wins from their first five matches and two losing bonus points has put Exeter third in the table, with Leicester Tigers and London Wasps notable scalps. However they lost narrowly to champions Saracens at home last weekend.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Jon Clarke has flirted with the fullback position this season but finds himself at the centre of attention come Saturday. The outside centre is one of the most consistent performers in the Premiership and will be looking to tie down the berth with Tom May snapping at his heels.
Northampton Saints - Team News: Ryan Lamb comes back into the Saints side at fly-half replacing Stephen Myler who drops to the bench. James Craig starts at blindside with Calum Clark replacing Ben Nutley on the other flank. Roger Wilson comes onto the bench to replace Craig.
Exeter Chiefs - Player to Watch: James Scaysbrook flies under the radar as one of the Premiership's unsung heroes. The openside has the ability to upset even the most battle hardened of back-rows so expect him to shine on Saturday.
Exeter Chiefs - Team News: Ben Moon come in for his first-ever Premiership start in place of former Saints prop Brett Sturgess, who drops to the bench; whilst Neil Clark is handed his first start of the season as he comes into the front-row alongside Moon and John Andress. The other change comes in the back division where fit-again winger Josh Tatupu replaces Nic Sestaret.
Key Battle: Ryan Lamb is up against Ignacio Mieres at fly-half and both have the flair and ability to change a match. But with Mieres probably holding the edge from the tee, Lamb will look to push his opposite number around the Franklin's Gardens field with a series of well executed positional kicks.
Trivia: Exeter beat the Saints for the very first time last season: 30-9 at Sandy Park on March 6 . The Chiefs have lost on both previous occasions they have played at Franklin's Gardens in all competitions
Stats: Northampton are joint top of the disciplinary standings having accrued three yellow cards so far this season with Calum Clark, Phil Dowson and Brian Mujati all spending time in the sin-bin.
"Like us, Exeter's team is built on hard work, getting the basics right and sticking together, and they'll be really pleased with the position they're in. So it'll be a tough task for us. They've had a couple of good wins and for them to go to Welford Road and win there will have given their confidence a big boost. But we know we can beat them. On our day, if we get our game right, we'll beat them."
" They are a tough team to beat and we are fully expecting a battle up there. They could easily have won four out of five games, so they will be as tough a battle as they'll ever be and they'll be looking to put in a big performance before their World Cup guys come back."
Prediction: Another loss is almost unthinkable for Jim Mallinder's Saints. Despite the Chiefs starting the Premiership in sparkling form, expect the Saints to edge this one by the narrowest of margins.
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