Alex Tait will make his 200th appearance for Newcastle Falcons when he starts in Friday’s Aviva Premiership visit of Gloucester to Kingston Park Stadium (kick-off 8pm).
The 29-year-old full-back this week pledged his future to his home club with a new long-term deal, and forms part of a side showing eight changes from the one which fell to Harlequins in their last league outing.
A new half-back pairing sees Michael Young and Mike Delany linking up, Chris Harris coming into the centres with Marcus Watson starting on the left wing. Kyle Cooper and David Wilson join the front row, Evan Olmstead coming in at lock as Mark Wilson moves back to flanker in a back-row which sees the return of Ally Hogg at No 8.
Looking to do the double over Gloucester following September’s 18-13 victory at Kingsholm, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “It’s going to be an interesting battle, and with it being a Friday night up here the crowd are going to make a big difference. Hopefully we’ll turn it on.
“We can take a lot of confidence from the result we had down at Gloucester in September, which was a good defensive performance. We’ve beaten them once away this season but we can’t rest on our laurels. We’d love to do the double over them but they’re a side who are on fire at the moment, and they’re looking good.
“They play a really good brand of rugby, they have some key players and they’ll be a difficult side to beat. They’ll be looking to turn us over, and in the same game last season they kicked nine penalties against us. That killed us off even though we out-scored them in terms of tries, but our discipline on the day wasn’t great. This year it has to be a different thing altogether, and with the way we’re playing we’re scoring tries for fun. We’ve just got to make sure we tighten up on the defensive side.
“Gloucester seem to have galvanised a little bit recently, and are playing a more expansive game with a bit more unity. They’re playing a good brand, they have go-to players like Ross Moriarty, Billy Twelvetrees, Richard Hibbard and those kinds of guys, and they give them a lot of energy. Their back three is exceptionally quick, but, having said that, our own isn’t bad either.”
Looking for a marked improvement on their last showing at Harlequins, Richards added: “I was annoyed with the way we conceded some very easy tries, and as much as Harlequins were on top of their game it was a very frustrating and disappointing day from our own point of view. It’s behind us now though, and we’re working hard to put it right.
“Without a doubt, it’s important in terms of our Champions Cup ambitions that we get the win on Friday. It starts running away from us if we don’t, and we need to win.”
Richards and his squad have had the benefit of input from the refereeing fraternity during the build-up to the game, the Falcons boss revealing: “We had Tony Spreadbury and Craig Maxwell-Keys come up to see us on Wednesday, which was really useful.
“We went through some past games with them to analyse how certain decisions came about, and Craig assisted in our training session. It’s nice to get a quality referee like that out there in the middle during training, and it will be as useful for them as it is for us.
“They got an insight into how we prepare, why we do certain things and what we’re looking for. They would generally go into a game pretty cold in terms of understanding what we are trying to achieve in certain areas, and it’s great for both parties that we have visits like this.”
Tickets for Friday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Gloucester (Friday, 8pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Alex Tait
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Chris Harris
12 Juan Pablo Socino
11 Marcus Watson
10 Mike Delany
9 Michael Young
1 Rob Vickers
2 Kyle Cooper
3 David Wilson
4 Calum Green
5 Evan Olmstead
6 Mark Wilson
7 Will Welch (captain)
8 Ally Hogg
16 Scott Lawson
17 Ben Harris
18 Jon Welsh
19 Will Witty
20 Callum Chick
21 Sonatane Takulua
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Sinoti Sinoti