Coming off impressive away wins is not the only similarity between the two sides on show this Saturday, as a pair of the most consistent sides of recent campaigns face each other in NW4 with Saracens looking to regain top spot as Wasps play Leicester the following day.
Although the journey to being Premiership challengers has been radically different for Saracens and Exeter Chiefs, with dramatic change and investment in North London contrasting with the gradual evolution from the second tier into a new ground and the top flight in Devon, there is a strong collective culture underpinning both sides. Whilst the Chiefs were being written off earlier this season. most notably after a 34-13 home loss to Saracens in early September, Sarries win at Tigers, and a success by Exeter at Bath that they couldn't even achieve, restored them to the top four. The Chiefs' European campaign will not have the dramatic climax of last season, but the league campaign could well do. As with Saracens, the Devon side can adapt to get the win, and the magnitude of the weekend's win cannot be underestimated.
As everyone knows, Saracens and Exeter have showed the intent to find a way to win in spades, and on that theme, where Sarries have fallen back on their defence in recent weeks, the rolling maul becomes the "go to" weapon for the Chiefs, predictable it can be, harder to stop, as it is so well executed. Hence, the Sarries' kicking game and the discipline, especially after last week's scrum disappointments, become essential in keeping Exeter away from the danger zone, as a rolling maul can mean only one thing, with the theme tune from Thomas the Tank Engine ringing out at Sandy Park more regularly than Southern Railway trains at the moment as Thomas Waldrom continues another prolific season, and a better musical accompaniment than some which have been tried in the past. Incidentally, the back row, of scored two tries on their last two visits here. However, with the exciting backlines at full strength for this match, there are plenty of ways this game can be won. The Devon side were the first Premiership visitors to Copthall in February 2013, and make their fifth visit here, having won one match, 24-20 in the penultimate game of 2014/5 here when Saracens just about held onto fourth spot on the way to the title.
Turning to this campaign, in the aftermath of the Saracens defeat, Exeter rediscovered their attacking edge as a 36-25 home win over Harlequins was followed by a 41-17 win in the new derby at Bristol, only for the momentum to slide with a run of one draw and five defeats in six matches, beginning with a one point loss at Northampton where Exeter had led 13-0, and then a 27 all draw with Gloucester. In Europe, they fell to two straight losses, failing to make any impact in a 35-8 home loss to ASM Clermont Auvergne and suffering another defeat by a point in Ulster, and a frustrating 13-10 home Premiership loss to Bath, although the tables would later be turned. The Anglo Welsh commenced with a defeat at Harlequins, but the revival began in the second match as Cardiff Blues were humbled 62-25 as the hosts ably demonstrated their strength in depth with ten tries. A present run of four away wins got underway with a 32-15 win at Newcastle Falcons ahead of a 57-22 Devon demolition of Worcester Warriors, and a comfortable 21-3 win at Sale Sharks. A 13-7 home defeat to Bordeaux-Begles was the only blemish in the sequence, although the Chiefs bounced back to win in France in the second part of the double header. That led to the impressive festive double success over Leicester at Sandy Park (31-10) and that win at Bath which proved conclusively claims that Chiefs are back to their best.
Possible line up for the hosts sees Alex Goode at full back, with Chris Ashton and Chris Wyles occupying the wings, outside a centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, and Owen Farrell reunited with Richard Wigglesworth at half back. Into the pack, and Richard Barrington should form the front row with Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo. Will Skelton and Maro Itoje should continue at lock, with Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger and Jackson Wray forming an unchanged back row. For the Chiefs, changes from the win at the Rec would seem likely to be minimal. That should see Phil Dollman at full back, with the in-form wing duo of Jack Nowell and Olly Woodburn outside a centre partnership of Ollie Devoto and Sam Hill, though two late tries for former Saracen James Short at Bath, and a return to fitness for Henry Slade could see them start. Gareth Steenson and Will Chudley seems the likeliest half back combination, though. Forwards-wise, Ben Moon and Tomas Francis are the likeliest props, but Luke Cowan-Dickie could start at hooker, with Mitch Lees and Jonny Hill retained in the second row, and a back row of Dave Dennis, Don Armand and Waldrom.
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