Gary Graham returns to Newcastle Falcons’ side for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership trip to Bath Rugby a fortnight after making his international debut for Scotland.
The flanker forms part of a side showing ten changes from the one which started last weekend’s Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final at Northampton Saints, the Falcons’ front row ranks boosted by the return from injury of loose-head Sam Lockwood.
Hooker Kyle Cooper and tight-head Logovi’i Mulipola complete a freshened-up front row, Newcastle’s back-line showing a host of changes with Zach Kibirige the only starter retained from last weekend as injuries rule out Josh Matavesi (calf), Vereniki Goneva (calf) and Alex Dunbar (groin).
Simon Hammersley comes back into the side at full-back, Sinoti Sinoti stepping up to the left wing outside a centre pairing of Scotland’s Chris Harris and Portugal’s Pedro Bettencourt. Toby Flood and Michael Young return to form an experienced half-back pairing, Newcastle keen to repeat last season’s home-and-away double over Bath after defeating them 16-8 at Kingston Park Stadium on November 23.
The Falcons were also 22-7 winners when the two teams locked Premiership Rugby Cup horns two weeks earlier, Newcastle losing just one of their last seven encounters with the West Country side in all competitions.
Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Bath is a difficult place to play, they won’t have lost anyone to internationals this weekend and their injury situation doesn’t appear to be very bad, so it will be a really hard but interesting game.
“We’ve been down there and won last season and we beat Bath up at our place in November, so in that sense it doesn’t hold any fear for us. At the same time we’re very respectful of the talent they have and the fact that they will be very well coached by a top guy like Todd Blackadder – we’ve just to go there and produce a performance.
“We’re not going down there to concede, and we never have done. There are points to be had, so let’s see what we can come away with.”
Building a 21-point lead at Northampton but allowing it to slip during last weekend’s Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final at Northampton, Richards said: “The first half-hour was very positive but we fell off a cliff after that, not helped by the fact we picked up four calf injuries, which was a bit strange.
“That certainly didn’t help, but at the same time we’ve played some good rugby in our last few games – we just need to string it together for 80 minutes.
“The boys take such pride in their performance that it really hurts them when they lose, as it should do. There was a bit of soul searching among the squad and the coaches on Monday morning when we were going through our de-brief, but it was all channelled positively in terms of looking for the reasons why we lost the game and how we can put it right this weekend.
“Monday was a difficult day just trying understand why we fell off that cliff after half an hour. We gave a lot of guys their first game for a while, which told in terms of fitness later on, and because we picked up so many injuries we were using our subs earlier than intended and for the wrong reasons. We tried to drip feed people back in and it didn’t quite work how we wanted, but we’ve had a positive week and the guys have picked up for the Bath game.
“The next block of games are all really important to us, we’ll take what we can from each of them and that’s the way we’ll approach it.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby (Saturday, 3pm, Recreation Ground)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Zach Kibirige
13 Chris Harris
12 Pedro Bettencourt
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood
9 Michael Young
1 Sam Lockwood
2 Kyle Cooper
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Calum Green
5 Andrew Davidson
6 Will Welch (captain)
7 Gary Graham
8 Nemani Nagusa
16 Santiago Socino
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 David Wilson
19 Will Witty
20 John Hardie
21 Sonatane Takulua
22 Brett Connon
23 Ben Stevenson
Referee: JP Doyle