Team news: Dunbar in to face Gloucester
The 31-times-capped midfield man replaces injured countryman Chris Harris in the penultimate match of the season, Johnny Williams joining him in the centres.
Alex Tait comes in at full-back with a head knock ruling out Simon Hammersley, Zach Kibirige replacing the injured Vereniki Goneva on the wing while Michael Young comes in at scrum-half for a Falcons side in search of their third successive league victory at Kingsholm.
Young scored one try and made the other during last season’s man-of-the-match performance, Newcastle also tweaking their forward pack for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off.
England flanker Mark Wilson misses out after picking up a hamstring injury, Callum Chick coming in, while Sean Robinson makes his first start since December having returned from a broken arm.
On the bench there could be a Premiership debut for Jamie Blamire, the 21-year-old Cumbrian, as well as England Students wing/centre George Wacokecoke.
Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Everybody has written us off, but we’ve just got to go out there and perform with the control and composure needed to win a game of Premiership rugby.
“We’ve given it our all in the last couple of matches, but just not with the level of control required at this level.
“There are such small margins in this league and so many good teams – it’s incredibly unforgiving.
“Whoever ends up getting relegated, whether it’s us or Leicester Tigers, it’ll be a good team who goes down. It’s a shame, but that’s what promotion and relegation is there for, and when you have a league of 12 good teams that’s just the reality of the situation.”
With their survival hopes hinging on Leicester’s remaining two games as well as their own, Richards said: “When you look at what Leicester have got – Harlequins away and Bath at home – they’re both difficult games, and there’s a glimmer of a chance for us.
“If Leicester lose this weekend and we win at Gloucester, then who knows what happens in round 22?
“Bath will be going up to Leicester with something to play for, so there’s a chance. It’s a slim chance, and we do understand that, but the boys here are going all-out to make it happen.”
Rueing the home losses to Leiecster and Northampton over the past three weeks, the Falcons boss said: “It has been a difficult time for the boys, and we really needed to win at least one of our last two games.
“When you look at the possession and territory stats against Northampton last week, we were dominant in both areas. The problem was we gave away too many easy points in the first half which virtually killed us, and it was too big a gap to claw back despite a much-improved second half.
“We were within seven points and having all the attacking pressure near the end but we shot ourselves in the foot, and we now have a mountain to climb.
“I genuinely believe the boys have gone out and given it their all, and that’s not an issue. We gifted Northampton a 24-3 half-time lead, and it was just a little bit too much.
“Sometimes it’s the pressures of where we are that can affect people in different ways, and it obviously did last Friday. Once we’d kicked ourselves into gear we went out there and delivered a better level of performance, and it’s having that belief that we could and should be winning.”
**Newcastle Falcons team v Gloucester Rugby (Saturday, 3pm, Kingsholm)**
15 Alex Tait
14 Zach Kibirige
13 Alex Dunbar
12 Johnny Williams
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood (captain)
9 Michael Young
1 Logovi’i Mulipola
2 George McGuigan
3 Rodney Ah You
4 Calum Green
5 Sean Robinson
6 Callum Chick
7 Gary Graham
8 Nemani Nagusa
16 Santiago Socino
17 Sam Lockwood
18 Trevor Davison
19 Will Witty
20 Jamie Blamire
21 Sam Stuart
22 Tim Swiel
23 George Wacokecoke
**Referee:** Tom Foley