Saints face daunting trip to Sandy Park
March 4, 2011
Northampton will need Soane Tonga'uiha at his best if they are to come away from Sandy Park with a win © Getty Images
Northampton Saints will be intent on arresting their rapid slide down the Aviva Premiership standings when they travel to Sandy Park to take on Exeter Chiefs on Sunday.
For so long the season's pace-setters, the Saints now lie fifth after a shocking run of five successive league defeats, the most recent of which was a 18-16 defeat at home to Gloucester last weekend.
Consequently, a trip to Sandy Park is hardly the ideal tonic for the free-falling Saints. The Chiefs were beaten at home by Bath last weekend but they have won eight of their last ten in all competitions on their own patch.
Exeter - Player to Watch: It's going to be hard to miss Nemani Nadolo. The 21 stone Fijian winger will be making his first start for the Chiefs and is almost certain to make an impact.
Exeter - Team News: Nadolo replaces Matt Jess in the back-three while Phil Dollman is recalled in place of the rested Jason Shoemark. In the pack, Chad Slade takes over from the injured James Hanks in the second-row.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Courtney Lawes continues his recovery from injury with a start in the second-row, he will need to impress fast if he is to play any role in England's Six Nations bid.
Northampton - Team News: Scotland's Joe Ansbro returns on the wing after injury while James Downey and Jon Clarke provide the ballast in midfield. Stu Commins continues to partner Stephen Myler at halfback and Phil Dowson starts at openside and captains the team.
Key Battle: Exeter have two huge ball carriers in the backs in Nadolo and Sireli Naqelevuki while flanker Tom Johnson is among the league's biggest contributors - the Saints must win the battle of the gainline to silence the home crowd.
Trivia: The two sides have met on four previous occasions and all four games have gone the way of the Saints.
Stats: Northampton have not won on the road in the Premiership since defeating Sale at Edgeley Park in November.
"They'll push on towards the end of the season, we've just got to make sure they don't start that push at the weekend. They're a good quality side, coached well, and even the guys who come in will put in a good performance I'm sure." - Exeter assistant Ali Hepher praises their rivals
"They like to get over the gain line with their big runners, but they like to spin the ball wide as well. And we will have to keep our discipline as well because they have some excellent goal kickers. However we are going to Exeter in good spirits. The atmosphere and commitment in training has been good all week." - Northampton boss Jim Mallinder
Fantasy: Northampton prop Soane Tonga'uiha has scored more points than any other front-rower in this season's ESPNscrum Premiership Fantasy Rugby. Is he in your side?
Prediction: Exeter will feel that last weekend's loss to Bath was a missed opportunity - the Saints could well be the ones to suffer once again.
Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk subscribers in the UK can watch this match as part of ESPN's Free Weekend. Click Here for more details.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales were just 13 minutes from a famous victory, but the lessons to be learned in defeat are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards
Ahead of England's clash with Samoa, Scrum Sevens takes a wander down memory lane and celebrates seven examples of Pacific Islands magic
England must find a way to improve their game by tiny margins and they will get there, writes Phil Vickery