Friday 23 August 2013 Written by: Adam

Experienced campaigner Mike Blair gets the nod at scrum-half alongside fly-half Joel Hodgson, while there are starts for centre Danny Barnes, prop Gary Strain, hooker Scott Lawson and second-row Dom Barrow.

The Falcons’ previous outing was a 21-21 draw with Bath Rugby in Beziers, and with preparations stepping up a notch ahead of the opening weekend of the Aviva Premiership season, everyone will be looking to stake their claim to the black jersey.

And to spice things up, tomorrow’s clash sees Falcons legend Pat Lam returning to Kingston Park as head coach of Connacht.

Lam has named a strong squad for his side’s trip to Newcastle with new signing and Super-15 winning captain Craig Clarke included in the 26-man squad. His ex-Waikato teammate Nathan White returns to the fray this weekend after missing out on the match with London Wasps through injury.

In the backline Pro12 record points scorer Dan Parks is also named in the travelling party.

“Connacht will provide us with a tough test, which is just what we need with exactly two weeks until the Aviva Premiership opener,” said Falcons boss Richards.

“There is a lot of experience in the group we have brought in, and it’s all about the blend. The experience that our younger players have gained now will be something that will serve them well during the season,” he added.

Commenting on his side’s chances in the Aviva Premiership, Richards said: “The premiership has evolved since I was in charge at Harlequins, but we are constantly challenging ourselves.

“I’ve been there before and seen it before. It doesn’t faze me if we’re tipped to struggle, but I think genuine rugby people will see we’ve got a balanced team and, barring too many injuries, we’ll not be fighting it out down the bottom.

“I hope people don’t get the wrong idea when I say I’m not thinking about survival. I want to stay up, but I don’t want to be down the bottom. I want to be a little bit higher up.

“If I have a goal it’s to win every game, or at least have a chance of winning. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the changes from when I arrived last August to today have been absolutely massive and there will be more changes over the next three or four years. It’s about getting into a position where we are always up at the top fighting for silverware.”

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Tom Catterick, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Gary Strain, 2 Scott Lawson, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Carlo del Fava, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch, 8 Ally Hogg

Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Matt Thompson, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Franck Montanella, 20 Scott MacLeod, 21 Chris York, 22 Chris Pilgrim, 23 Phil Godman, 24 Jamie Helleur, 25 Alex Crockett, 26 Andrew Higgins (Referee: Richard Wigglesworth)