Northampton aim for silverware on Exeter turf
March 14, 2014
George Pisi scores his third try as Northampton beat Saracens in the LV= Cup semi-final © Getty Images
Northampton travel to Exeter for the LV= Cup final on Sunday, with the Saints hopeful of making it a hat-trick of wins over the West Country side this season.
The Saints have already turned Exeter over twice in the Aviva Premiership, thrashing them 38-11 at Franklin's Gardens on the opening day of the campaign. Last month's meeting at Sandy Park was a much closer affair, with the Saints scraping a 17-16 win thanks to a late George Pisi converted try.
Northampton have rung the changes ahead of Sunday, swapping eight from the side that defeated Saracens 26-7 in the semi-final. Head coach Jim Mallinder has previously used the competition to blood young talent, but with silverware on the line he has plumped for his strongest available line-up.
James Wilson and Jamie Elliott come into the backs, with Stephen Myler taking the fly-half berth. It is all-change in the pack too, with props Alex Waller and Salesi Ma'afu, lock Samu Manoa and back-rowers Calum Clark and GJ Van Velze coming into the side.
Northampton flanker Phil Dowson has dismissed any idea that the Saints' previous victories over Exeter this season will have a bearing on the final: "Yes we beat Exeter in the Premiership but things are completely different in cup competitions and when it's a final anything can happen with nerves."
"When we last played them at Sandy Park it was almost as if a hurricane had struck the South West, the conditions were pretty poor so we can't take much out of that game.
"Exeter are a strong side that likes to move the ball around, it will be a big battle and we are under no illusions we face a big challenge on Sunday."
Exeter, who have home advantage on their side, have also made changes to their 23. However, rather than having the luxury of replacing junior talent with senior players, it has been a case of injury forcing the hand of head coach Rob Baxter.
James Hanks, Ian Whitten and Tom James are all unavailable, meaning changes to the starting XV and bench are in order. Jason Shoemark and Fetu'u Vainikolo come into the XV, which is boosted by the return of Ben Moon. The prop missed the semi-final for the birth of his first son. Carl Rimmer retreats to the bench to make room for Moon, while Romana Graham comes in for Hanks.
Exeter lifted the 'Bath Hoodoo' with victory at the Recreation Ground last weekend © Getty Images
Exeter go into the fixture having overcome their so-called 'Bath Hoodoo' in last weekend's semi-final. The Chiefs, who had failed to beat Bath in 36 years, finally defeated their West Country rivals in a tight 22-19 victory at the Rec.
Chiefs scrum-half Haydn Thomas said the win provided Exeter with a much needed psychological boost ahead of the final: "We all know we are as good as anyone in the league so if we play at that level then we know that anything is possible.
"There's a lot riding on the match and we are all up for it. It would mean everything to this club to win the cup. We've pushed big teams very close and we are at home so I know it will be rocking."
Exeter Chiefs: L Arscott, F Vainikolo, P Dollman, J Shoemark, M Jess, H Slade, D Lewis, B Moon, C Whitehead, H Tui, D Mumm (capt), D Welch, D Ewers, B White, K Horstmann
Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie, C Rimmer, A Brown, R Graham, D Armand, H Thomas, G Steenson, S Naqelevuki
Northampton Saints: B Foden, K Pisi, G Pisi, J Wilson, J Elliott, S Myler, K Fotuali'I, A Waller, M Haywood, S Ma'afu, S Manoa ,C Day, C Clark, P Dowson (capt), GJ Van Velze
Replacements: R McMillan, E Waller, T Mercey, J Craig, B Nutley, A Day, W Hooley, F Autagavaia
Prediction: Exeter have home advantage, but Northampton will be too strong. Saints to win the cup by 10 points.
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