Ryan Burrows captains Newcastle Falcons against Edinburgh in the Scottish capital on Friday night as they aim to build on their position at the top of Heineken Champions Cup pool five.
The Falcons have won both of their group games in Europe’s top-tier competition after defeating Toulon and Montpellier, Friday’s trip to BT Murrayfield coming in a run which has seen just one defeat in their last eight matches in all competitions.
Adam Radwan starts on the left wing after being the top try-scorer in last season’s European Challenge Cup, centre Chris Harris featuring at the venue where he played two of Scotland’s autumn internationals. Brett Connon starts at fly-half having landed a long-range penalty in an impressive cameo from the bench during last weekend’s victory at Northampton, Tonga captain Sonatane Takulua partnering him in the half-backs.
Adam Brocklebank and George McGuigan come into the front row after impressing from the bench last weekend, Fiji lock Tevita Cavubati drafted in less than a fortnight after starting for his national team in their historic victory over France. Gary Graham returns to Murrayfield having trained there with the Scotland squad during their recent autumn tests, Callum Chick starting at No 8 having scored the dramatic winning try during the Falcons’ Champions Cup victory over Montpellier.
Speaking ahead of Friday’s short hop over the border, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Edinburgh are a really good side who are competitive in all areas. A little bit like ourselves they’re not built around superstars, they’re a very workman-like team and they have a habit of winning tight games, so it will be a really interesting contest.
“You know what you’re going to get from a side coached by Richard Cockerill. He will have them well drilled and up for it, and in someone like Viliame Mata they have one of the best No 8s in world rugby who has been playing some unbelievable stuff in recent months. His ball-carrying and what he brings to their game is exceptional, but they’re about more than one player and we know it will be a great test.
“We’ve had the beauty of winning both of our games in Europe so everything’s up for grabs in terms of how we can move on in this competition, and it’s an important game for us.”
Explaining a selection which contains a whole raft of enforced changes, Richards added: “We have had three tight-head injuries in the last 24 hours, and with Jon Welsh, Craig Mitchell and Paul Mullen all also unavailable, if these props are unfit we have no tight-head cover. We are in dialogue with EPCR to try and resolve the issue, and that communication will continue.
“We lost a load of guys to head knocks last weekend including Kyle Cooper, Sean Robinson broke his arm again during the game, Mark Wilson has an ear infection, Nemani Nagusa has a leg problem, then we have Michael Young out with a fractured cheek bone. Our captain Will Welch is out long term with an ankle, Jon Welsh is out for a while, Will Witty has injured his knee, Josh Matavesi is out with an ankle, Joel Hodgson has broken a leg and Tom Penny is out with an ACL – you get the idea, and then we have a few other guys who are not registered for Europe due to the tournament regulations.”
Beating Northampton deep into added time last weekend having done the same against Montpellier in Europe back in October, Richards said: “We’re a side who have a habit of winning in the dying minutes, which probably doesn’t do my heart any good or the hearts of our supporters, but we’ve got the confidence that we can go into the 80th minute or beyond and get what we need out of the game.
“Murrayfield is a great stadium and I always used to enjoy playing up there, we’ll have a good number of Falcons fans supporting the team and I’m sure they’ll make themselves heard. That really does give the boys a boost, and we’re all looking forward to what should be a great contest.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Edinburgh (Friday, 7.45pm, BT Murrayfield)
15 Alex Tait
14 Tom Arscott
13 Chris Harris
12 Pedro Bettencourt
11 Adam Radwan
10 Brett Connon
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Adam Brocklebank
2 George McGuigan
3 David Wilson
4 Tevita Cavubati
5 Glen Young
6 Ryan Burrows (captain)
7 Gary Graham
8 Callum Chick
16 Santiago Socino
17 Trevor Davison
18 Sami Mavinga
19 Calum Green
20 Simon Uzokwe
21 Sam Stuart
22 Toby Flood
23 Johnny Williams
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)