In the second of the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals, table-toppers Exeter Chiefs take on fourth-placed Northampton Saints at Sandy Park, in an exact rematch of their Round 22 fixture just a week before.
Exeter emerged victorious that day, 40-21, but the game was tied at half time, as well as Northampton enjoying two separate leads early on in the game, which will have given the side from the East Midlands hope that they have discovered the blueprint to upsetting the Chiefs.
We have compiled a composite XV from the two sides named for Saturday’s fixture and representation certainly skews one way.
- Jack Nowell, Exeter Chiefs
To lose Santiago Cordero for a game of this magnitude is a shame, although Nowell is more than competent in the 15 jersey. His industry, footwork and ability to exploit any gaps in the defence just give him the edge over Ahsee Tuala here.
- Alex Cuthbert, Exeter Chiefs
Tom Collins is in good form and there’s not too much in this one, but Cuthbert has the experience and will bring some much-needed physicality to try and slow down Taqele Naiyaravoro. Cuthbert has had a solid debut season in the south-west and a standout performance in the playoffs would go a long way to securing his spot in the back three alongside the incoming Stuart Hogg next season.
- Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs
Rory Hutchinson has been one of the breakout players of the season and his work in the Northampton back line should not go underestimated. Slade, though, has been playing at that level for a number of seasons now and as well as he plays for England, it always seems as if he finds an extra gear when he dons an Exeter jersey.
- Ollie Devoto, Exeter Chiefs
Another tough call, with Piers Francis probably getting this spot in 50% of people’s selections. We have gone with Devoto based the extra physicality he brings to the position, with the former Bath man more than capable of straightening the line and tying in defenders, as well as playing an expansive game through his distribution.
- Taqele Naiyaravoro, Northampton Saints
This selection comes with a bit of a caveat and that’s that Northampton don’t cough up the same possession advantage on Saturday as they did in Round 22. If Naiayravoro has the ball in his hands, he will be able to run rampant through Exeter, just as he has done against plenty of other teams, but if Exeter are holding onto the ball and the likes of Nowell, Cuthbert and Slade are able to turn the Wallaby, Chiefs could be in line for a fair bit of success of their own.
- Dan Biggar, Northampton Saints
The Welsh international didn’t come cheap for Saints, but his performances this year at the heart of a more ambitious attack under the tutelage of Chris Boyd, have been pivotal to the club’s rise up the table. In addition to that, if Northampton are able to stay out of penalty trouble at the breakdown and keep clean at the set-piece, he’ll be able to make sure they are playing their rugby in the right areas of the pitch.
- Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints
The South African was unlucky to be pipped to the player of the season award by Danny Cipriani, but there is no doubt that he has been the standout scrum-half in the competition this season. His forays around the fringes, defensive reads and intercepts, and general tempo of his game have been the spark plug of Saints’ offensive resurgence.
- Ben Moon, Exeter Chiefs
If Exeter’s set-piece goes well, they tend to go well as a team, and Moon is critical to that. He will fancy his chances of getting an edge on Ehren Painter at the scrum and he is always a willing and energetic defender in Exeter’s patient style.
- Jack Yeandle, Exeter Chiefs
Yeandle is the epitome of consistency for Exeter and his performances rarely get the credit they deserve, with teammate Luke Cowan-Dickie England’s preferred option of the two. Similar to Moon, he can keep Exeter’s set-piece ticking over nicely and allow them to utilise their very effective driving maul.
- Harry Williams, Exeter Chiefs
Despite Painter being a player of considerable promise, Williams is ingrained as England’s second or third option at tighthead and that disparity in experience could show up at Sandy Park on Saturday. Williams will bolster that Exeter set-piece and had a strong outing against Alex Waller in the match last weekend.
- Dave Dennis, Exeter Chiefs
The Australian is another who flies under the radar at Exeter, but whose all-round performances are at the heart of the club’s success. He will bring positive impact at the set-piece, breakdown, with his defensive work rate and he can make gains as a ball-carrier, if required.
- Jonny Hill, Exeter Chiefs
Hill has been unlucky to come along at a time when England’s second row options are particularly stacked, otherwise his form in the south-west would likely have seen him win a number of caps by now. His well-rounded game is unlikely to leave any obvious chinks in his armour for Northampton to attack on Saturday.
- Courtney Lawes, Northampton Saints
This is a lonely pack for Northampton players and that probably tells you where and how Exeter will attempt to win this game. Lawes, however, gives Northampton a valuable weapon in their attempt to disrupt Exeter’s famed lineout and driving maul. There are few, if any better defensive lineout jumpers in England than Lawes and if he’s at his predatory best on Saturday, Saints could derail Exeter.
- Don Armand, Exeter Chiefs
Lewis Ludlam, like Hutchinson, has had a breakout campaign and the young openside even made our Premiership XV of the season. Overall, you’d still err towards Armand as the more influential player, but Ludlam’s rise this season has seen that gap diminish significantly and he could be a swing factor in this game, despite Armand’s obvious all-round class.
- Matt Kvesic, Exeter Chiefs
He won’t carry as explosively as Teimana Harrison, but his breakdown work is as good as you’ll see in the Premiership. Kvesic and Harrison aren’t too dissimilar as versatile back rowers, with Kvesic edging it at the contact area and Harrison shading it as a carrier, so this one has simply gone down to form, which the Exeter man has a narrow lead on.
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