Vereniki Goneva is among the returning players as Newcastle Falcons go for an Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final place, hosting Gloucester in Saturday’s final group game.
Only the four group winners will go through to the semi-finals, Newcastle currently tied on points with Leicester Tigers at the top of Pool 4 but with a superior tries-scored and points differential.
Leicester travel to Wasps on Sunday but Newcastle are looking no further than Saturday’s visit of Gloucester, director of rugby Dean Richards recalling Goneva and a host of other players after his side’s eight-game winning streak was halted at Bath last weekend.
Toby Flood and Michael Young return to form the half-back partnership, Josh Matavesi and Tom Penny comprising the midfield in a much-changed side.
Scottish trio Glen Young, Andrew Davidson and Ally Hogg are the only three forwards retaining their places in the team, Mark Wilson captaining a side which sees Nili Latu joining him in the back row.
Head coach Dave Walder said: “It’d be nice if life was so easy that you could start a game thinking about four-try bonus points, but Gloucester are a quality side and we have to win the game before putting that into our minds.
“The fact that Bath are playing on Friday night and Gloucester will know what they need to do perhaps shows that the competition needs a tweak in terms of how it’s set up, and likewise the fact that Leicester in our own group play a day after us, so again will know what they need to do.
“The reality is that we can only worry about what we do, and the first thing is we need to win the game. Hopefully as the game goes on we’re in a position to start considering pushing for the bonus point, but winning the match is our immediate aim.”
Admitting he had learned lessons from Gloucester’s Aviva Premiership win at Kingston Park back in November, the last time Newcastle lost a home game, the head coach said: “I was the first to admit at the time that they out-coached us and out-played us.
“There were certain things they did that night that we weren’t ready for as coaches, I only had Plan A for my attack stuff and it was certainly a learning moment for myself in terms of how we prepare the team. Gloucester admitted at the time it was their best performance of the season, and fair play to them, so for us Saturday is a chance to get one back over on them.
“I’d rather we won the league game but that’s gone now, and the fact we’re playing for an Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final is some consolation if we can get the result.
“Gloucester are coached by Johan Ackermann, which you can see from their ‘no backward steps’ kind of mentality, but our lads are looking forward to going toe to toe with them. If we do that then hopefully the firepower we have can be decisive on the day.”
Keen to bounce back after last weekend’s 21-8 loss at Bath ended their eight-game winning streak, Walder said: “At half-time we felt 0-0 didn’t really reflect the dominance we’d had on the game, but you’re never going to get that for 80 minutes and Bath got a little bit of momentum behind them after the break.
“Our lads faded away, which was disappointing, and Bath played the conditions a little bit better than we did. We came out of the traps well to begin with, we thought we’d clawed it back when Ally Hogg’s line-break was pulled back for a forward pass but sometimes those calls just don’t go your way. Bath scored a couple more from there and the game was gone, but as long as we learn from it then it will have been a useful exercise.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060. Season tickets and season car park passes are both valid.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Gloucester (Saturday, 3pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Alex Tait
13 Tom Penny
12 Josh Matavesi
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Toby Flood
9 Michael Young
1 Sami Mavinga
2 Kyle Cooper
3 Scott Wilson
4 Glen Young
5 Andrew Davidson
6 Mark Wilson (captain)
7 Nili Latu
8 Ally Hogg
16 Ben Sowrey
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Trevor Davison
19 Ryan Burrows
20 Callum Chick
21 Joel Hodgson
22 Zach Kibirige
23 Sonatane Takulua
Referee: Matt O’Grady