Northampton Saints are not where they want to be in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table but loosehead Alex Waller believes a home tie with high-flying Exeter Chiefs could be the perfect springboard for their season.
Having finished top of the pile a year ago, Saints are currently six points off the play-off spots in fifth, and went down to previously winless London Irish last time out.
On New Year’s Day they welcome Rob Baxter’s Chiefs, who have lost just once in the league all season, on the opening day at Bath Rugby, and sit in second in the table.
And while Waller, who has been an ever-present for Saints this season, admits Exeter are in fine form, particularly prolific No.8 Thomas Waldrom, he insists that Saints couldn’t ask for a better challenge to get their season back on track.
“Exeter have been playing fantastically well and they are sat right up at the top of the table. That is going to be a big game for us. We want to play against the best,” said Waller.
“I haven’t watched too many of their games but Tom (Waldrom) is always a danger.
“He is one you have got to look after but they are great all over the pitch and that’s why they are going so well this season.
“It is going to be a tough day but it is also a chance to put right our wrongs.”
The Chiefs come into the game on the back of a good win at home to Sale Sharks, where they powered to a bonus-point success in the second half.
Just two points behind leaders Saracens, another win this weekend would lay down a marker in their bid to reach the Aviva Premiership Rugby play-offs for the first time.
And for Will Hooley, who made his Exeter debut off the bench, it represents a particularly special occasion against the club he spent all his career with prior to a summer move to Devon.
“It’s New Years Day so family and friends will be around so I would be lying if I didn’t look out for that fixture,” said Hooley.
“But it’s really about us as a team, we had a good win against Sale on the weekend and we are looking to project forward now and focus on Northampton on Friday.
“I think we will have to be better than we were against Sale, knowing what Northampton can bring.
“They haven’t been in the best of form but that almost brings the feat knowing they can come at you and we are going to be ready for that I am sure.
“It’s still early day, there is still so much rugby to go and I don’t think you can write anyone off, certainly not Northampton.
“The first 20 minutes of any game is very important but come Friday at their home ground you know you will face a big atmosphere so you have to keep them quiet and keep hold of the ball and be patient.”
Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm – Live on BT Sport
Referee: JP Doyle (102nd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & Gareth Copsey. TMO: Stuart Terheege.