Northampton Saints’ interim head coach Alan Dickens has made five changes to his starting line-up for this weekend’s festive clash against Exeter Chiefs.
Dickens’ side host the defending champions in the Aviva Premiership at a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens, kick off 3pm, looking to get back to winning ways in their last game on home soil in 2017.
After being rested for last week’s defeat to the Ospreys, Courtney Lawes comes back into the Saints pack at blindside flanker, with Jamie Gibson shifting into the openside berth and Teimana Harrison again named at No 8.
Michael Paterson is joined in the engine room by Api Ratuniyarawa, the 31-year-old Fijian behemoth rewarded for an excellent showing in the Wanderers’ Monday triumph over Leicester Tigers with his first start since October.
Saints skipper Dylan Hartley has recovered from illness and will pack down at hooker with Campese Ma’afu the other change in the front row – Mikey Haywood and Francois van Wyk moving to the bench.
And Luther Burrell returns to the Saints midfield to partner Rob Horne after making a significant impact from the bench last time out in the only change to Dickens’ back line.
It will be the interim head coach’s first game at Franklin’s Gardens since he took charge of the squad, and with league leaders Exeter in town, the 41-year-old is hoping a 15,000-strong crowd can inspire his charges.
“Exeter pose a big challenge for us as the defending champions, but this is a great opportunity here at the Gardens,” he said.
“If we can implement what we’ve been working on during the week and stick together, I’m very confident. I’ve tried to freshen things up and with this game being a sell-out, we are working hard to produce a great performance on the pitch on Saturday.”
Tickets are still available for the Gloucester match at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday 6th January, starting from £28 (adults) and £12 (juniors). Visit bit.ly/SAI-GLO-201718 to book online or call the Saints Ticket Office on 01604 581000.
SAINTS V EXETER CHIEFS TEAM NEWS
Aviva Premiership Rugby, Round 11
Saturday 23 December, 2017
1. Campese Ma’afu
15. Henry Slade
1. Ben Moon