Newcastle Falcons welcome back England quartet Adam Radwan, Trevor Davison, Jamie Blamire and Callum Chick to their squad for Saturday's Gallagher Premiership home game against Worcester Warriors.
Winger Radwan and prop Davison are both brought back into the starting XV for the 6pm Kingston Park Stadium kick-off, with Blamire and Chick being deployed from the bench.
Newcastle’s last league outing three weeks ago saw them winning away to Exeter Chiefs for the first time, with Saturday’s team also boosted by the return of lock Sean Robinson from a knee injury following last weekend’s comeback from the bench.
After a fortnight of Premiership Rugby Cup matches there are returns for Mike Brown, Pete Lucock, Ben Stevenson, Louis Schreuder, Philip van der Walt, Will Welch and Carl Fearns.
Head coach Dave Walder said: “The Premiership Cup games have been great because they have offered game time to some guys who needed it, a rest for some boys who needed it and the coaches have been given plenty of food for thought.
“We’ve also had lads returning from international duty, so all in all it has been a tough selection with lots of guys making a strong case.”
Beating Wasps 34-27 at home and losing 25-20 at Sale Sharks during their cup window, Walder said: “In a funny way I think we learned more from the defeat at Sale than we did by beating Wasps the week before.
“Wasps gave a great account of themselves considering they’d pretty much thrown a team together at the last minute, but we were disappointed we didn’t win that game by more due to our own inaccuracy at times. Down at Sale you know what you’re going to get in terms of a really combative 80 minutes, and even in defeat it was good for some of our guys to get exposed to that. It will be a good stepping stone for them, and it’s been a useful couple of weeks for us in terms of assessing our squad depth.”
Turning back to league matters as Newcastle look to keep the ball rolling from their one-point victory in Devon three weeks ago, Walder said: “Winning down at Exeter for the first time was a great result for us.
“The nature of the victory was guys just scrapping for each other and really digging in, and we’ve got a really good group who are mad keen to fight hard for the team. They found a way to win, which was the main thing, even if it wasn’t always flowing rugby.
“That result really gave the group a good lift, and the challenge now is to make sure it wasn’t a one-off. We need to turn up against an exciting Worcester team who play the game the right way, and we have to back up the Exeter win.”
In the enviable position of having a selection headache at hooker, where Jamie Blamire lies in wait and George McGuigan starts, Walder explained: “George has had a brilliant two or three years for us, and would consistently be up there for coaches’ player of the season.
“We’re delighted for Blammy that he’s had his chance with England and taken it with both hands, but on the same note we’re also surprised that George hasn’t been part of that picture with the national squad.
“Blammy’s development path has really accelerated and he’s coming back to us having started in a victory against the world champions, and it’s just great to be in a position where you have two talented and in-form players competing for the position.
“The other thing with Blammy is that he’s had a massive impact for us off the bench for us, and there are two or three games where he’s a made a line-break or played a vital role in a decisive late try or penalty. They both push each other on in training, and the higher your level of training the better you’re going to be on game day, so it’s good news for us whichever way you look at it.”
Asked whether the Falcons had taken opposition clubs by surprise this season, the former England fly-half added: “I don’t think we’ve necessarily surprised teams, because speaking to guys around the circuit I think everyone knows what we’re about.
“I may be slightly biased but the Gallagher Premiership is the best league in the world, and there are no easy games. It’s a great league to coach in and a great league to watch, and we’re just a piece in the jigsaw.
“We enjoy doing our bit - I feel like we’re going okay, but as any head coach will say, you always want that little bit more.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Worcester Warriors (Saturday, 6pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Mike Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Ben Stevenson, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Louis Schreuder; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Philip van der Walt, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Carl Fearns.
Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Kyle Cooper, 18 Mark Tampin, 19 Callum Chick, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Tom Penny.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Alex Hearle, 13 Francois Venter (co-captain), 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Gareth Simpson, 1 Ethan Waller, 2 Scott Baldwin, 3 Jay Tyack, 4 Matt Garvey, 5 Andrew Kitchener, 6 Kyle Hatherell, 7 Ted Hill (co-captain), 8 Sione Vailanu.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Joe Batley, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Billy Searle, 23 Oli Morris.
Referee: Wayne Barnes.