Key Clash Preview: Saracens v Exeter

Vicarage RoadDate: Saturday 30th of October
Kick off: 15:00
Venue: Vicarage Road

Sarries have won their last five in a row going into this weekend, and whilst this week’s headlines may have all been focused on the acquisition of Gavin Henson (though he won’t arrive until he has finished perfecting his foxtrot), they are within reach of top spot and will target this home game as a must win.

After such a spirited performance last week at home to London Irish, the Chiefs will look to right last week’s wrongs in the lineout, and show that they can perform just as well away from the fortress of Sandy Park. They are also yet to win away from home in the Premiership this year, and have lost their last three Aviva league games, so the pressure is on.

What to expect:
If Exeter give as much as last week then Saracens will not breeze through this one as they might have expected in pre-season. Neither team has suffered greatly from the International break – with Steve Borthwick surprisingly overlooked following Simon Shaw’s injury this week, Sarries are pretty much at full strength. Their strike players such as Brits and Joubert will have to be on form against an Exeter pack that hasn’t backed down against anyone yet so far this season.

All eyes on:
With Henson not yet available and Hougaard gone, the keys to number 10 belong to Alex Goode. Widely touted as a future England fly-half, he needs a good run of games to live up to the hype, though he has certainly shown flashes of his potential so far this season, including his heroics in last week’s win against Newcastle. Meanwhile for Exeter, Peter Kimlin played all of Monday night’s A league game following his arrival last week, and the Wallaby international will relish going up against players such as Borthwick and Mouritz Botha in the second row on what could be his Premiership debut.

Head to head: Kelly Brown v Tom Johnson
Brown’s move to London so far looks to be a success, and he has become part of a formidable back row unit along with Jacques Burger – or the returning Andy Saull – and Ernst Joubert. His dynamism around the park and tackle count have been up there with the best so far this season. Up against him is a man who most of us knew little of before the season started, but after topping the Opta stats for most carries up until last weekend, Tom Johnson is making a name for himself. Much like Brown in terms of his work rate, he is also prone to produce some big hits. Could be an interesting duel.

Weather forecast: Sun and clear skies, so there should be some tries from both teams, a feat neither achieved last weekend.

If Exeter produce another similar effort as they did last weekend against the Exiles, then they will certainly run Saracens close. But the Men In Black have too much class across the board for the Chiefs to cause an upset for me, and if Exeter are without star fly-half and main points machine Gareth Steenson, then they could be in for a long afternoon. Saracens by 9.

By Ben Coles (@bennycoles)