Exeter boss Rob Baxter has described Sunday’s visit of Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens to Sandy Park as the perfect fixture for the Chiefs to finish 2019.  

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The two clubs fought out a classic final last June and Chiefs have since been most vocal about how the London club conducts its business, coach Baxter and club owner Tony Rowe being two of Saracens’ biggest critics in the wake of the salary cap scandal that saw them fined £5.4million and deducted 35 league points. 

Baxter’s side comes into this latest meeting sitting on top of the table following last weekend’s victory over Leicester Tigers, while Saracens sit rock bottom due to their points deduction – a situation sure to provide plenty of motivation for both camps. 

“We’re top of the league right now and had Saracens not had the points deduction, they themselves would be in and around the top too,” said Baxter. “They have got a very talented squad, who are always tough to beat. They have a different motivation right here and now to other years, so it’s going to be an interesting challenge for us.

“Every game challenges you in different ways, just as every competition challenges you in different ways. For obvious reasons, Saracens are coming here desperate to collect points. We have been straight-forward in our thoughts about the salary cap situation, so that’s not going to be a de-motivator for them, I’m aware of that. 

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“That said, we have been in situations where they have knocked us off in a couple of finals now and we would like to put that record straight. As I said, there is a lot of motivation for both sides, so it should lead to a fantastic game.

“This is a fantastic game to finish the year with,” he added ahead of the sold-out fixture. “If you were to ask our supporters who would they like to face over the Christmas period, they would probably pick Saracens,

“It is fortunate this fixture has dropped when we are going okay and at the right end of the table, showing some really good form. Last week we managed to get some rest into a few of the guys, but now we have to go into this weekend in the only way we know-how, which is to go flat out, all guns blazing, and look to get something out of the game.

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“Last week’s win (at Leicester) showed a lot of very good qualities, some of which you can’t teach the players. What you can do, however, is encourage it from the bottom right to the top. You can encourage that belief in each other and that desire to fight for each other. As coaches, it’s up to us to give the players a way to foster all of that – and that’s what we showed in abundance at the weekend.”

Baxter has recalled many of those frontline stars who were given last weekend off. Back into the pack come England duo Alec Hepburn and Luke Cowan-Dickie in the front row, as well as Dave Dennis, Dave Ewers and free-scoring No8 Sam Simmonds.

Behind them, Nic White and Joe Simmonds return at half-back, while Henry Slade’s leg injury means Ian Whitten reverts to midfield alongside Devoto with Jack Nowell restored on the right wing.

Billy Vunipola, meanwhile, will feature in a Saracens back row with one change from last weekend’s victory over Bristol Bears. Long-serving Jackson Wray returns to the starting XV at openside flanker with young Nick Isiekwe completing the trio on the blindside. The front row of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Vincent Koch remains the same while there is an alteration in the boiler which sees Will Skelton selected alongside Maro Itoje.

Scotland international Duncan Taylor comes into the centre to partner Brad Barritt for the only amendment to the backline. Max Malins keeps his place at full-back following two tries and a man-of-the-match display against Bristol and will link up with Sean Maitland and Elliot Daly once again in the back three. The half-backs are Ben Spencer and Owen Farrell.

EXETER: 15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Ian Whitten, 12. Ollie Devoto, 11. Olly Woodburn; 10. Joe Simmonds, 9. Nic White; 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Dave Dennis (capt), 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Dave Ewers, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Sam Simmonds. Reps: 16. Elvis Taione, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Enrique Pieretto, 19. Jannes Kirsten, 20. Don Armand, 21. Jack Maunder, 22. Gareth Steenson, 23. Sam Hill.

SARACENS: 15. Max Malins; 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Duncan Taylor, 12. Brad Barritt (capt), 11. Elliot Daly; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Ben Spencer; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Will Skelton, 6. Nick Isiekwe, 7. Jackson Wray, 8. Billy Vunipola. Reps: 16. Jack Singleton, 17. Rhys Carre, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. George Kruis, 20. Ben Earl, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Alex Lozowski, 23. Nick Tompkins.

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