Newcastle Falcons have made five changes to their side for tomorrow night’s Aviva Premiership trip to Northampton Saints (kick-off 7.45pm), with Mark Wilson skippering the team.
The fractured cheekbone suffered by Will Welch during last Friday’s match with Exeter rules out the club captain, with prop Sam Lockwood set to miss the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles in the same game. Rob Vickers comes in for Lockwood on the loosehead side, Sinoti Sinoti replaced on the left wing by Vereniki Goneva after damaging knee ligaments in the Kingston Park clash.
Joel Hodgson comes in at fly-half against his former club, England Under-20s World Cup winner Callum Chick packing down at blind-side flanker in a game which will be shown live on BT Sport. Brett Connon and Nick Civetta could make their Aviva Premiership debuts having both been named on the bench, the latter returning from earning his first full USA cap during their recent European tour.
Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Northampton certainly tested us from an aerial point of view when they were up here last month in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
“They kicked the ball twice as much as we did, we are expecting them to utilise the boot again and they have always had a big, lumpy pack. We know Kieran Brookes will be a handful on the tight-head side but we have an equally strong front-row with the likes of Davey Wilson, Scotty Wilson, Bobby Vickers and Scott Lawson. There are lots of factors going in our favour and we are really looking forward to it.
“Northampton are a good team who play a good brand of rugby, and we will not be complacent. In Stephen Myler they have a kicker with a reasonable boot on him, but it’s not their only strength. We have evaluated where to attack, where we feel they can be exploited and we will take it to them on the night.”
The Saints are minus a quartet of players on England duty but Newcastle have also been hit by call-ups and injuries, Richards stating: “They haven’t got as many guys unavailable as we do, when you look at it on paper.
“We have four out for the season and a load of other boys injured as well. Northampton are the same as ourselves in having lots of guys unable to play but, having said that, I think we have got more strength in depth. The side we are sending down is more than capable of winning, and I see no reason why we can’t.
“Zach Kibirige and Tom Catterick are now training with us, and next week we will have Evan Olmstead and Sonatane Takulua back from international duty. There are a couple of boys coming back from injury and by the end of January we should have all but four or five of our squad available.”
Going into the game placed tenth in the Aviva Premiership following last week’s home loss to Exeter Chiefs, the Falcons boss said: “I am never satisfied because I want us to be right up around the top.
“I want us to be number one, and if you are satisfied with tenth then you shouldn’t be in the game. That is where we aim to be, but at the moment we are in that dog-eat-dog scenario in terms of trying to improve our position around the middle area of the table. Every side is capable of beating the other in there, and it is a case of making sure we start turning up and beating them on the day.
“There was a lot of endeavour against Exeter last week and it wasn’t a case of people shirking their responsibility – we just needed to be more accurate in what we were doing. The boys were disappointed with themselves, they have worked hard during the week and you can’t dwell on that going into a big game like Northampton away. You have to park it, fix it and move on, which is what we have done.
“Franklin’s Gardens is a great place to play and an even better place to win. It would be an absolutely awesome feeling for us to win down there, and that’s what everyone is working towards.”
Supporters unable to travel to Northampton are invited to watch the game in the Tap & Tackle bar on the first floor of the East Stand at Kingston Park Stadium, where there will be free food at half-time.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Northampton Saints (Friday, 7.45pm, Franklin’s Gardens)
15 Alex Tait
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Dominic Waldouck
12 Juan Pablo Socino
11 Marcus Watson
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Michael Young
1 Rob Vickers
2 Scott Lawson
3 David Wilson
4 Calum Green
5 Will Witty
6 Callum Chick
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Ally Hogg
16 Ben Sowrey
17 Alex Rogers
18 Scott Wilson
19 Nick Civetta
20 Opeti Fonua
21 Sam Egerton
22 Brett Connon
23 Fred Burdon
Referee: Andrew Jackson