Scrum-half Michael Young captains Newcastle Falcons in Friday’s European Challenge Cup semi-final at Gloucester having been man of the match during the Falcons’ Aviva Premiership victory there less than two months ago.
Young scored one try and made the other in the Falcons’ 21-20 triumph over the Cherry and Whites back on March 3, and skippers the side in the absence of Will Welch, who suffered a leg injury during Friday’s 35-30 home win over Sale Sharks.
The winner of Friday’s semi-final will face either Cardiff Blues or French club Pau in the European Challenge Cup final in Bilbao on Friday May 11, Newcastle making six changes for the West Country clash.
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) April 19, 2018
Two-time Champions Cup winner Maxime Mermoz starts at outside centre as Chris Harris is pushed to the wing, Josh Matavesi coming into the team at inside centre. Joel Hodgson continues at fly-half after steering the Falcons to their league victory at Gloucester, Hodgson 12 from 12 off the kicking tee in Europe this season.
Zach Kibirige starts on the left wing after scoring one of four Falcons tries in the 25-10 quarter-final victory at home to French club Brive three weeks ago, Sean Robinson replacing Will Witty in the second row. Evan Olmstead and Ryan Burrows come into the back row, last week’s man of the match Gary Graham continuing at open-side after making a successful return from two months out with a neck injury.
Last week’s match-winner Rob Vickers sits on a Newcastle bench which sees a return for England flanker Mark Wilson, with the tournament’s top try-scorer Adam Radwan also lying in wait.
Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Gloucester have got stacks of pace and I think they’re an outstanding team.
“It will be an interesting duel, their form is probably a bit better than ours in recent weeks but I thought the way we came back against Sale means it will go right down to the wire. If that transpires then I feel we have more chance of winning it than they have, just down to our ability to finish off the tight games.”
Determined not to let a second chance at a final pass them by, Richards added: “When we lost that Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final down at Exeter earlier in the season it really annoyed me because I love winning, and we were within reach of a final.
“We didn’t turn up on the day, we probably didn’t pay Exeter enough respect and that certainly won’t be the case on Friday. It’s all about understanding who we’ve got, what they can do and then going out and delivering what we have talked about.
“There are a few changes due to injuries, guys coming back and some boys not being registered for Europe, but the upshot is that we have fresh legs taking the field and a group of guys who are absolutely raring to go.”
Reflecting on last week’s 35-30 nail-biter against Sale Sharks, the Falcons boss said: “We know how to create a lot of drama by putting ourselves into a 25-point lead, going behind and then winning it at the death, but it was just an incredible game.
“Our supporters were fantastic in helping us over the line towards the end with the noise they were generating, and the impact of our bench really told.
“We are a team now which has been together for a little while, and a big part of the culture we’ve developed over the past six years has been that togetherness. The lads know each other inside out, they can rely on each other and that’s something we place a lot of value on. The culture here is very much about never lying down, and you’re starting to see that translating into results.”
Friday’s semi-final will be shown live on the TVs in the Tap & Tackle bar in Kingston Park Stadium’s East Stand.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Gloucester Rugby (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingsholm, live on BT Sport)
15. Simon Hammersley, 14. Chris Harris 13. Maxime Mermoz, 12. Josh Matavesi, 11. Zach Kibirige, 10. Joel Hodgson, 9. Michael Young (capt), 1. Sam Lockwood, 2. Scott Lawson, 3. Scott Wilson, 4. Calum Green, 5. Sean Robinson, 6. Evan Olmstead, 7. Gary Graham, 8. Ryan Burrows
16. Santiago Socino, 17. Rob Vickers, 18. Trevor Davison, 19. Will Witty, 20. Mark Wilson, 21. Sam Stuart, 22. Adam Radwan, 23. Tom Penny
15. Jason Woodward, 14. Tom Marshall, 13. Billy Twelvetrees, 12. Mark Atkinson, 11. Henry Trinder, 10. Billy Burns, 9. Callum Braley, 1. Paddy McAllister, 2. Motu Matu’u, 3. Fraser Balmain, 4. Ed Slater (capt), 5. Mariano Galarza, 6. Ruan Ackermann, 7. Jake Polledri, 8. Ben Morgan
16. James Hanson, 17. Josh Hohneck, 18. John Afoa, 19. Freddie Clarke, 20. Lewis Ludlow, 21. Ben Vellacott, 22. Andy Symons, 23. Charlie Sharples,
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)