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Johnson fired up for Saints clash

Tom Johnson will be fired up for a second-half cameo that could incite Exeter to a rousing finale against Northampton, according to Rob Baxter.

Chiefs boss Baxter admitted he resisted the temptation to throw England flanker Johnson in from the off against the Saints this weekend, despite the 31-year-old itching to get going.

Johnson was released from England duty in midweek, unable to force his way into Stuart Lancaster's squad for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Scotland at Murrayfield.

The former Coventry flanker will instead take a seat on the bench for Exeter's Aviva Premiership showdown with Saints at Sandy Park on Saturday night.

Head coach Baxter backed Johnson to channel his England frustrations into club commitments, with Dave Ewers, James Scaysbrook and Kai Horstmann the starting back-row.

"TJ's come back fresh and raring to go," said Baxter.

"And I think he's been relatively unlucky, he's been on really good form this year.

"Obviously coming back later in the week means we'll want to see how we include him this weekend, but he will be involved.

"We know what kind of impact he can make, and he'll definitely be in that mix to come on and cause some havoc."

Northampton have restored seven regulars to their squad after LV= Cup and England Saxons duty.

Sam Dickinson will face off with Saxons rival Dave Ewers at number eight, with Alex Waller and Callum Clark also back from second-string England duty.

Stephen Myler and Christian Day both start, with Salesi Ma'afu and Phil Dowson back after sitting out last weekend.

Exeter sit eighth in the league after 12 games, with Baxter eyeing a top-half finish, irrespective of next season's European rugby situation.

"It's going to be this block of four fixtures that realistically give us any opportunity to finish in the top half," said Baxter.

"We've got to get some results out of these next four matches if we want to be anywhere near we were last year.

"We talk a lot about being comparable with where we were the season before or moving forward.

"We can still do that in the league, after qualifying for the Heineken Cup this year of course.

"But we've got some big battles ahead if we want to maintain that record in the Premiership.

"And that's very important, because I do have a feeling there will be some top-level competition of some sort, and we definitely want to be involved."

Bath host Newcastle at the Recreation Ground on Saturday, with head coach Mike Ford able to welcome England men Kyle Eastmond, son George Ford and wing Anthony Watson back into the starting line-up.

Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards has made two changes from the side that saw off the Dragons in LV= Cup action last weekend.

Jamie Helleur replaces Adam Powell at centre, with Scott MacLeod slotting in for the injured Dom Barrow at lock.

Barrow will miss the rest of the season with ankle trouble.

Argentina centre Gonzalo Tiesi will make his Premiership debut for the Falcons after starting against the Dragons last weekend.

Table-toppers Saracens host 10th-placed London Irish at Allianz Park, with back-rower Jacques Burger making his first Premiership appearance since November.

England centre Joel Tomkins has been named as a replacement after recovering from knee trouble, while academy flanker Matt Hankin could make his league debut from the bench.

London Irish captain George Skivington returns the second row, with Australia full-back James O'Connor slotting back into the starting line-up.


From Belfast Telegraph