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Chiefs side to face Saints

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Rob Baxter wants his Exeter Chiefs side to reinforce their "traditional qualities" as they look to become the first side this season to do the double over reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton Saints

The Chiefs remain the only club to have toppled the league leaders on home soil this season, emerging victorious from their clash back in November, and the two sides will lock horns again this Sunday at a sold-out Sandy Park (2pm).

With the Saints currently riding high at the summit, ten points clear of next best Saracens, the Chiefs know it will be their toughest test to date if they are to keep alive their own play-off hopes.

A fortnight ago Baxter's side were undone 25-18 at Leicester Tigers, a result which saw them drop from second spot to that of fifth in an instance. But with just three points between Saracens and the Chiefs, the need for wins has never been more paramount.

Baxter is well aware that Sunday's showdown is an acid test for his troops, but he insists the Chiefs are relishing the battle that awaits them even though the Saints were dealt a 37-5 European hammering by Clermont Auvergne last weekend.

"Northampton have won the Premiership before and they are a consistent top end finisher, so that kind of tells you that the odd loss doesn't damage them too much,” said the Exeter head coach. "Most teams don't get to this end of a Premiership season without having lost somewhere, so they are used to getting through things and that is what you have to do.

"We have played at Clermont ourselves and there were plenty of times in that game when we thought we were going very well and then all of a sudden a try was banged in against you, so that's the kind of quality side they are.

"I'd imagine with the quality of players Northampton have and the experience they have, they will be used to bouncing through what are disappointing results and getting back on track.

"For us, it's not really about when is the right time to play Northampton, it's whether we can show the right qualities at this time of year in the big games – and that's more my focus – what we want to do and what we want to bring on Sunday.

"I think when we do that, we are a good side and it gives us every opportunity to get something. However, if we sit here and worry too much about them and what they will bring – especially at this time of year – then it takes away a lot of your own focus on things.

"The teams that tend to do well this time of year are the teams that tend to establish their traditional qualities very well. I think if you watch from afar teams like Northampton, Leicester and Saracens, they start to come through at this time of year because they are very comfortable with who they are.

"They go out onto the pitch and ram it home in the big games. We felt we didn't quite do that away to Leicester a few weeks ago, but we felt did that a lot better against Newcastle last week and now the battle is to try and do that against Northampton this weekend.”

Overcoming the Saints will be far from easy, but Baxter acknowledges the efforts the Midlanders have put in so far this season and says they are rightly top of the pile for a reason.

Baxter added: "I am a big believer in the league table doesn't lie and if the table is right, they are clearly number one and the form team in the Premiership. For me, this is a Premiership encounter at the business end of the season, so everything about it would say it is our biggest home game.

"Therefore we have to  attack the game as best we can. We can't afford to get too carried away with too much of the detail they will bring, simply because it takes away the focus on yourselves.

"Yes, it's a tough test, but that's what you expect if you're challenging at the top end at this time of the season. People talk about our run-in, but we're playing teams around us and if we can bang in some wins, it's pulling points off the opposition.

"We see it as a real positive game for us because it allows us to have double the influence than if we were playing teams lower down the league. That's the approach we'll take and w'll go after each game as best we can between now and the end of the season and see where it takes us.”

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter is boosted by the return of both Phil Dollman and Jack Nowell to his back division, whilst up front he names an unchanged pack from that which saw off the Falcons in last weekend's European Challenge Cup quarter-final.

On the bench, Moray Low's hamstring injury means Alex Brown is the tight-head option, whilst there is a first-ever inclusion in the top flight for highly-rated Academy youngster Sam Skinner.

15 Phil Dollman
14 Ian Whitten
13 Jack Nowell
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Henry Slade
9 Will Chudley
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Tomas Francis
4 Dean Mumm (capt)
5 Mitch Lees
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Elvis Taione
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Sam Skinner
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Dave Lewis
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Tom James

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