Mike Haywood admits Northampton Saints will be out for redemption in Aviva Premiership Rugby this weekend after crashing out of Europe.
The Saints travel to Sandy Park to take on the Exeter Chiefs, with Rob Baxter’s men looking to do the league double over Northampton for the first time.
Jim Mallinder’s side were humbled last weekend at French side Clermont Auvergne, a 37-5 defeat ending the Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders’ hopes of European glory for yet another season.
But Haywood insists his side have been working hard to right the wrongs of the Clermont loss, with a win over Exeter vital to maintaining their advantage at the league summit.
“Exeter have got a very good home record this season so it will be tough but we’ll go there looking to bounce back from the Clermont defeat,” said the 23-year-old hooker.
“We’ve looked long and hard at the areas we need to improve on because we’re up another great side in Exeter.
“We’ve been talking a lot about the battle up front and we’ll need that physicality that we were lacking against Clermont.
“Exeter are a top side and beat us earlier this season so we’ll need to put in a great performance to beat them.”
Northampton will be up against it with Exeter defeated just once on home soil since September – losing by a point to Gloucester Rugby on January 3 – although they do boast an impressive Aviva Premiership Rugby away record themselves, having lost just twice in nine matches.
The Chiefs’ 24-18 victory in Round 7 makes them the only league victors over Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens this season, and prop Tomas Francis believes the prospect of facing a Saints side with something to prove will only spur his team-mates on.
The 22-year-old tight-head said: “After going to Clermont and getting a bit of a lesson, we know they'll be coming down here absolutely firing.
“We also beat them up at Franklin's Gardens earlier in the season, so they really will be fighting here – but that just excites us even more as a group.
“They'll be looking for a fight and we are ready to take them on in that.
“We put our game on well when we beat them last time, we took them on at what we think their strengths are, and our fitness and everything else came together, so it just came to fruition.
“I think whoever wins the upfront battle will win the game, and if you're scared about that there's no point playing.
“It is what you want in rugby – to play the best and to beat them.”
(Sandy Park, 2pm)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (152nd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff & Paul Burton. TMO: Geoff Warren.
Live on BT Sport