Sean Robinson captains Newcastle Falcons in Saturday’s Greene King IPA Championship season opener at London Scottish.
Robinson leads an unbeaten Falcons side who have won all three of their Championship Cup games, defeating Jersey (8-21), Doncaster (57-0) and Hartpury (14-52).
Director of rugby Dean Richards has made eight changes to the side which ran in eight tries at Hartpury last time out, Adam Radwan and Sinoti Sinoti returning on the wings. George Wacokecoke starts in the centres after scoring four tries in three games so far this season, Toby Flood returning at fly-half.
In the pack Jamie Blamire comes in at hooker after impressing in cup action, Mike Daniels starting at tight-head while skipper Robinson returns to the second row. Scottish international Gary Graham is rotated back into the back row for the 3pm kick-off, Falcons boss Richards being clear from the outset that promotion back to the Premiership is the stated goal for the season.
“It’s our first league game, the opening block of cup rugby is behind us now and it’s all about getting the points we need to finish top of the league,” said Richards, who has won the Championship title at the first attempt with both Newcastle and Harlequins.
“There’s absolutely no reason why we should expect to go through the season unbeaten because we’re going to encounter some really hard tests along the way, and it’s just about getting as many points on the board as we can to be at the top of the tree come the end of the year.
“London Scottish have a reasonably strong scrum, an experienced back row and hard-running centres. They’re a team who are reasonably well drilled and don’t throw too many boys in at the breakdown, so they’ll have a big defensive line. They’ll be a hard team to break down as a result of that, and they’re not far off being a Premiership-standard team when you have a good look at them.
“On their day they can be incredibly good, and we have to have cool heads in terms of how we deal with what we bring to the game. Toby Flood’s experience at ten will be vital for us, Sam Stuart at scrum-half has been going really well the last couple of years for us and we’ll need all of that ability in key positions. Allied to that we have some great youngsters in guys like Tom Penny, Simon Uzokwe and George Wacokecoke, and there’s a good balance there.”
Refusing to go overboard about his team’s cup form but showing satisfaction at positive progress, Richards said: “For our first game over at Jersey we told the boys to drip-feed their way into the match, and in hindsight we were wrong to hold them back in that way. We brought a much more attacking outlook for our subsequent two games and were rewarded with more than 50 points in each of those performances.
“It just goes to show we should have given the boys full licence to go and play right from the start of the first game over in Jersey, but at least we’ve learned the lesson early on in the season.
“The more that we stick to our shape and our style, the more teams will struggle to play against us. We’ve just got to have the confidence and the persistence to really go for it, and it’s playing how we want to play rather than worrying about other sides.
“Over in Jersey we only got through more than three phases on one occasion during the first half, and that was really disappointing. In our second game against Doncaster we were so much better because we found that continuity in possession, and at Hartpury last weekend, even with a little bit less accuracy in our game, we still managed to get through in the end.”
Well aware of the test that lies in wait at the Richmond Athletic Ground, the Falcons boss added: “It’s going to be a totally different thing this weekend down at London Scottish in terms of how accurate we are, and it’s a case of having that total focus to get the job done and get on the bus with the points in the bag. Hopefully we can do that, but we know we’ll have to work for it.
“We said all along, and I know from previous experience, you don’t play against sides lacking physicality and size in the Championship. It’s more about nous, speed and speed of thought which separates the two divisions, but whichever way you look at it we’re going to have some real humdingers this season.
“I’m excited by it, and I’ve always been excited by game day throughout my whole life. You train all week for 80 minutes of work, and that’s what we live for.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face London Scottish (Saturday, 3pm, Richmond Athletic Ground)
15 Tom Arscott
14 Adam Radwan
13 Tom Penny
12 George Wacokecoke
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood
9 Sam Stuart
1 Trevor Davison
2 Jamie Blamire
3 Mike Daniels
4 Darren Barry
5 Sean Robinson (captain)
6 Gary Graham
7 John Hardie
8 Simon Uzokwe
16 Kyle Cooper
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Mark Tampin
19 Sebastian de Chaves
20 Callum Chick
21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Alex Tait
Referee: Jack Makepeace.