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Eight changes for Saints ahead of top-of-the-table clash

Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd has made eight changes to his starting line-up to face Exeter Chiefs, with scrum-half Alex Mitchell set to make his first start of the season.

The men in Black, Green and Gold remain second in the Gallagher Premiership standings despite only picking up losing bonus points from back-to-back fixtures.

Saints have not lost three league fixtures in a row under Boyd’s leadership and will be desperate to pick up a third away win of the season at Sandy Park to close the gap on Premiership pace-setters Exeter.

Mitchell returns from international duty with England to start in the No.9 jersey for the first time this campaign following a lengthy injury layoff, partnering James Grayson in the half-back berths.

There are two further changes to Saints’ backline with Andy Symons coming into the midfield to join Matt Proctor, and Ahsee Tuala is selected on the wing – with Tom Collins and fullback Harry Mallinder rounding off the back three.

But Boyd has not been afraid to shuffle his pack after a frustrating defeat to Bristol last time out, as Francois van Wyk, James Fish and Paul Hill all come into the front row for the trip to Devon.

Alex Coles keeps his place at lock, but Lewis Bean will pack down alongside him in the engine room with Alex Moon set for a spell on the sidelines after picking up a knee injury last weekend.

Captain Teimana Harrison will lead out Saints in the No.8 jersey, while Tom Wood and JJ Tonks are named as flankers – the latter recalled this week by Northampton from England U20s duty.

Amongst the replacements Lewis Ludlam, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Cobus Reinach and Fraser Dingwall will all look to make an impact in the second half of the match, while lock Ben Glynn could well make his first Saints appearance off the bench after signing on at Franklin’s Gardens this week.

EXETER CHIEFS vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Round 11
Sunday 23 February
Sandy Park
Kick-off: 1pm

15 Harry Mallinder
14 Ahsee Tuala
13 Matt Proctor
12 Andrew Symons
11 Tom Collins
10 James Grayson
9 Alex Mitchell

1 Francois van Wyk
2 James Fish
3 Paul Hill
4 Alex Coles
5 Lewis Bean
6 Tom Wood
7 JJ Tonks
8 Teimana Harrison (c)

Replacements:
16 Mike Haywood
17 Alex Waller
18 Owen Franks
19 Ben Glynn
20 Lewis Ludlam
21 Cobus Reinach
22 Fraser Dingwall
23 Taqele Naiyaravoro

Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant referees: Tom Foley & Jonathan Healy
TMO: Keith Lewis

Not available for selection:
Jamie Gibson (ankle), David Ribbans (ankle), Api Ratuniyarawa (suspension), Piers Francis (concussion), Ollie Sleightholme (hamstring), Alex Moon (knee) and Ehren Painter (calf).

International duty:
George Furbank and Courtney Lawes (both England), Dan Biggar (Wales), and Rory Hutchinson (Scotland).

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