Newcastle Falcons team to face Saracens
Newcastle Falcons have made eight changes to their team for the Christmas Eve trip to Aviva Premiership champions Saracens (kick-off 1.30pm).
Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson return on the wings for a Falcons side who face the league’s top three clubs back to back over the next fortnight, their trip to Saracens followed by home dates against second-placed Wasps (Friday December 30) and third-placed Bath (Friday January 6).
Alex Tait comes in at full-back for a Newcastle side who have won their last two Aviva Premiership outings against Harlequins and Northampton, Fred Burdon the only other addition to the back line as he starts at outside centre. Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson slot into the front row, Canadian international Evan Olmstead returning to the second row as Ally Hogg comes in at No 8.
The Falcons go into the game after back-to-back European Challenge Cup matches against Lyon, the latter of which saw a 48-29 home victory as they ran in six converted tries.
Returning to league duties during a busy festive programme, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “You couldn’t ask for anything more difficult than playing the top three teams in the Aviva Premiership back to back, and it is a challenge for the boys. We will take from it what we can, and we are certainly not approaching it with any degree of fear.
“Saracens are without doubt a quality side, as you would expect from the English and European champions. They have got a squad which reflects that, so for us the challenge is to go down there and knock them off their perch. We are looking forward to it, we are under no illusions as to what it will take but the boys are definitely up for it.”
Having led 14-3 at half-time during their last Premiership trip to Allianz Park in the penultimate round of last season, Richards added: “I’ve said all along that there are no sides in the Premiership who worry us in terms of going out there and getting thumped.
“We just need to be on our game that particular day and put out a strong side, and when we do that we are a match for anyone. Last season’s game at Saracens probably reflects that, when we did reasonably well down there.
“Saracens are quite predictable in the way that they play but they go about it in a very thorough and methodical way. What they do, they are very effective at, and we need to be disciplined in how we deal with it. Our average penalty count this season has been pretty low, so in that sense it has not really affected us.
“The boys have prepared well and we are hopeful that, be it this week, next week or the week after, we will get something out of these three games.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Saracens (Saturday, 1.30pm, Allianz Park)
15 Alex Tait
14 Marcus Watson
13 Fred Burdon
12 Juan Pablo Socino
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Rob Vickers
2 Scott Lawson
3 Jon Welsh
4 Calum Green
5 Evan Olmstead
6 Callum Chick
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Ally Hogg
16 Ben Sowrey
17 Ben Harris
18 Paddy Ryan
19 Will Witty
20 Opeti Fonua
21 Sam Egerton
22 Craig Willis
23 Dominic Waldouck
Referee: Matthew Carley