Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby
Newcastle Falcons welcome back a host of stars including Sinoti Sinoti for Friday’s Premiership Rugby Cup visit of Bath Rugby to Kingston Park Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm).
In all the Falcons show nine changes from the team which won 23-21 at Harlequins last weekend, Newcastle currently level on points with Exeter Chiefs at the top of their group after two of the four pool rounds.
Michael Young and Joel Hodgson return to form the half-back pairing after steering Newcastle to Heineken Champions Cup victories over Toulon and Montpellier in the past month, the pair among a host of front-line players to have been rested over the past fortnight.
Johnny Williams is back to partner Pedro Bettencourt in midfield, the Portugese international having scored a try last weekend, while Sinoti returns on the left wing in a back three which sees Simon Hammersley at full-back and Alex Tait switching to the wing.
Tight-head Jon Welsh starts his first match this season after impressing from the bench during last weekend’s comeback game, George McGuigan coming in at hooker in a pack which also sees the return of lock Glen Young and flanker Gary Graham.
Toby Flood is named among the replacements after missing the last month with a shoulder injury, former Scotland flanker John Hardie also on the bench as he prepares for what would be his home debut.
Line-out coach Scott MacLeod said: “It will be an interesting game and we know what’s coming from Bath.
“They’re a big physical pack, and the battle for us starts there. I know it’s a cliché but it’s always true, and even though they’ve lost their first two games in the cup I know they’ll want to make a statement ahead of the Premiership re-match in a fortnight.”
Admitting selection had been difficult given the multitude of choices, the former Scotland lock said: “The Premiership Rugby Cup is an important stepping stone for us and a lot of lads are putting their hands up. They’ve been given opportunities, they’ve taken them and it leaves us in a good place.
“It’s important that the lads who played the first eight games of the season get a rest and it’s also important that other boys get a chance, so it’s been a very useful couple of weeks. The great thing has been the quality of performance from the players who’ve come in, and selection hasn’t been easy trying to balance the equation of guys who need a game and guys who’ve shown up really well these past few weeks.
“It’s great for me as a line-out coach to be working with the calibre of player we have at the Falcons, and even during the cup weekends we’ve had quality like Andrew Davidson and Glen Young showing up really well.
“Glen is incredibly athletic and you won’t find many locks anywhere who are as quick over the ground as him into a jump, and Andrew is rangier with his longer arms, so you have a bit of everything. You then add the likes of Calum Green, Will Witty, Sean Robinson, Tevita Cavubati and a number of others into the mix, and we’re pretty blessed at second row.”
Hopeful that the Falcons can take their cup form into the resumption of Gallagher Premiership action over the next few weeks, MacLeod believes the culture within the wider squad leaves Newcastle in a good place.
“It’s in our DNA here to not want to lose,” he said.
“The boys are very tight as a group, and that stands us in good stead when we get into those key moments. You want to look after your mate, it’s something that everyone buys into here and you can’t really put a price on that team spirit.
“It would be great to leave this cup block top of our group in both the Premiership Cup and the Heineken Champions Cup, and it would give us some real momentum going back into the league programme.
“The break from the Premiership came at the right time for us because after a tough start we’ve started to build up a head of steam, and we need to start winning in the league. We’ve been close in most of our defeats, we’ve played some good stuff at times within those games but the progression we’ve made during our month in the cup will hopefully enable us to start turning those Premiership matches into victories.”
Determined to minimise the penalty count, MacLeod added: “Discipline is a big thing for us because teams can try and milk penalties, so we have to be whiter than white and not give them any easy outs.
“That will be a big emphasis for us because our penalty count has been too high of late, and we’re away of the grey-cloud areas at the moment for referees around contact in the air during the line-out, high shots and no-arms tackles. They’ve been in the laws for years but they’re particularly hot topics at the moment, so we just have to be diligent and not give the referee the decision to make.
“You know you need to be lower in the tackle and to wrap your arms, and you know you can’t touch a jumper in the air, so just don’t do it and stop complaining. We need to knock those three or four avoidable penalties out of our game, because things like that can bite you.”
Tickets for Friday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Alex Tait
13 Pedro Bettencourt
12 Johnny Williams
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Michael Young
1 Sam Lockwood
2 George McGuigan
3 Jon Welsh
4 Calum Green
5 Andrew Davidson
6 Ryan Burrows
7 Gary Graham
8 Callum Chick
16 Kyle Cooper
17 Trevor Davison
18 David Wilson
19 Glen Young
20 John Hardie
21 Sam Stuart
22 Toby Flood
23 Ben Stevenson
Referee: Andrew Woodthorpe