Northampton suffered defeats to Exeter at home and away last season
Saints make six changes ahead of the sold out clash
Michele Campagnaro makes his first Premiership start in the centre for the Chiefs
Northampton Saints have made six changes as they look to get their season back on track when they welcome Exeter Chiefs to Franklin’s Gardens on New Year’s Day.
Friday’s Premiership showdown is totally sold out – guaranteeing a modern-day attendance record at Franklin’s Gardens in the process.
Having finished top of the Premiership a year ago, Saints have struggled to replicate that form and are currently six points off the play-off spots in fifth, and shockingly went down to previously winless London Irish last weekend.
There changes sees Tom Collins and JJ Hanrahan come into the backline and Alex Waller, Mikey Haywood, Victor Matfield and Sam Dickinson join the pack.
Meanwhile, Exeter are just two points behind leaders Saracens; another win this weekend would lay down a significant marker in their bid to reach the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs for the first time.
And looking to continue that positive start, Rob Baxter has made one change to his Exeter pack as England international Tom Johnson is promoted from the bench to replace Julian Salvi at openside, while Ben White is brought onto the bench to provide back-row cover.
Italy international Michele Campagnaro, who was impressive off the bench against Sale, makes his first-ever Premiership start in the midfield alongside Ian Whitten, while Olly Woodburn is given the nod on the wing ahead of James Short, who drops down to the bench.
Northampton Saints are without a win in their last three matches in all tournaments since beating Bath 13-11 at the Recreation Ground in Premiership Rugby on 5th December
The only side to beat the Saints at Franklin’s Gardens in Premiership Rugby since Exeter won there in November 2014 is Saracens, twice
Exeter Chiefs are the best team in Aviva Premiership Rugby over the last six rounds, having dropped only two possible league points in that period
The Chiefs have won three of their last four away games in the tournament. Exeter are going for a third straight victory over the Saints in Premiership Rugby having won both encounters last season
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Northampton: Luther Burrell
Controversially left out of England’s Rugby World Cup squad, 2016 is sure to be a year of redemption for the Northampton Saints centre. Burrell, who has made an exceptional start to the 2015/16 campaign, will be looking for an international recall under Eddie Jones but for now he must concentrate on helping Saints improve their form.
Exeter: Will Chudley
The scrum-half has made an excellent start to the campaign and was instrumental in an emphatic 41-27 victory for Exeter over Wasps earlier this month. The heartbeat of the Chiefs side, Chudley should, at least, be considered for the Six Nations squad If Eddie Jones is serious about starting a fresh and rewarding the best domestic players. He will be key if they are to get a result against Saints.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden (c), 14 Tom Collins, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Christian Day, 20 Michael Paterson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Harry Mallinder.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Tom Johnson, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Ben White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Short.
Date: Friday, January 1
Venue: Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Stuart Terheege