Premiership - Haywood happy to fill Hartley void at Saints

In the summer they lost the two pillars of their scrum – now they're making do without the backbone but Northampton Saints hooker Mike Haywood is relishing the chance to prove the doubters wrong as the Premiership returns this weekend.

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The summer departures of Soane Tonga'huia and Brian Mujati left two huge gaps at the coalface for Saints and while Alex Corbisiero arrived, persistent knee problems have restricted his impact.

With Dylan Hartley now on England duty – not to mention Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes – the spine would appear to have been ripped out of the Saints pack, although that didn’t stop them seeing off Sarries once more this season, last time out in the LV= Cup.

This is the time of season that Haywood lives for – with Hartley leading the side he performs the role of understudy admirably but when the Kiwi-born hooker is with England, he plays the starring role.

Alongside him it's been Gareth Denman, Ethan Waller and brother Alex – who has been pulling up trees in the absence of Corbisiero this season – leading the way in the front row with Samu Manoa's excellence a constant throughout.

This weekend's trip to Sandy Park to face Exeter Chiefs will demonstrate just how deep Saints' well of talent is – and Heywood is determined to meet the challenge head on.

"I'm really enjoying getting more game time, this is the time where I get a bit more of a chance," said the 22-year-old.

"I'm learning loads about my game, this is the best chance you get to do that, when you're out on the pitch from the start.

"But it's not just me, Gaz Denman, Alex Waller and his brother Ethan who played against Newport Gwent Dragons and was excellent, everyone is working really hard.

"We've got great strength. Obviously Soane and Brian Mujati left but I think the front row and the strength we have here has been amazing this season.

"Exeter will be a real challenge, they're a great side who are really strong up front and then they like to play at the back as well but the whole squad is ready for it."

Last time out, Saints secured themselves a home semi-final in the LV= Cup and they will host the Chiefs next month, and while they're out of the Heineken Cup, they remain in the Amlin Challenge Cup and go into this weekend in second spot in the Aviva Premiership.

And Haywood admits ending the season empty-handed would be a major disappointment for Saints.

"We've really set our goal as winning something this year," he added.

"And we go into every game thinking we can win it. We’re well placed in the LV= Cup and we're going well in the Premiership.

"We can't really look beyond Exeter at the weekend yet but we are determined to win something when it comes to the end of the season."

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