Team news: Falcons change six for Bath on Friday

Thursday 15 February 2018 Written by: Adam

The fly-half missed last week’s game at Saracens with a head knock but is fit to resume his place in the side as the Falcons go for a sixth successive home victory in all competitions.

Aiming to do a league double over Bath following the 33-32 victory they enjoyed at The Rec back in September, Newcastle welcome back the Scotland pair of Chris Harris and Jon Welsh to their starting XV following a fortnight on Six Nations duty.

Canadian international Evan Olmstead assumes a place on the blind-side flank in the only other change to the pack, fit-again centre Josh Matavesi and full-back Alex Tait the other two additions to the line-up as the Falcons aim to bounce back from their first league defeat in five games.

Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “When you look at Bath’s side on paper they’ve got a fantastic bunch of players, even with guys away through Six Nations duty.

“They’re a star-studded outfit, it will be a hard game but it holds no fear for us. We’ve shown we can beat them this season, we understand what’s needed and we just need to execute it to the Nth degree. If Bath turn up they’re a very difficult side to beat, but so are we.

“We played them a few weeks ago in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and in the first half had opportunity after opportunity, but we just didn’t put them away. Had we done so it would have been a different outcome, and they will be worried by the amount of chances we created. Should we start converting those into points it will be a very hard game for them, but they’re a good side and they will have done their homework on us.

“Overall we’re starting to deliver what we set out to do, we’re becoming more consistent but it has taken a bit of time. The game has evolved since we came back up, there has been some big spending going on around the league and in that respect we’ve been chasing our tails a little. But we’re getting there, we have a stability and quality in the side and a growing maturity in the group. Guys who were 21 during our Championship season are now in their prime with a bank of experience behind them, and we’re getting the rewards from that.”

The Falcons’ run of four successive league victories was ended last weekend with a 25-3 loss at European champions Saracens, Richards saying: “We’re at a stage now whereby we’re being ultra-critical on ourselves, and we feel we didn’t turn up on the day as well as we could have done.

“If you compare it with previous seasons we probably did better at Saracens than we have done in recent years, but the beauty now is that guys are setting higher standards and are looking at every single detail in terms of how we look to improve. We’re gradually getting there, and we’ve won nine of our last 11 games. That’s not a bad record but it’s understanding how to win the big games which counts, and being competitive every single time.

“We’ve shown we can beat most sides on our day by defeating the likes of Exeter, Northampton, Bath or whoever, but ultimately we need to be doing that against the Wasps and Saracens of this world. That’s where we want to be, and we’re gradually getting there in terms of having the consistency of performance that we need.

“Even after the disappointment of losing at Saracens what has been very pleasing has been the mind-set in terms of how the players are analysing their own performance, and looking to make the changes we need to take the next step.”

With crowds on the rise again this season and seats in short supply for Friday, Richards said: “Our home support has been fantastic this year, and I really must thank the local population here for turning up and getting behind us in ever-increasing numbers.

“Friday will be a great atmosphere and then we have The Big One at St James’ Park on March 24, which will both be fantastic occasions, and one of the things the players keep saying is that they want to reward our supporters.

“I’m not too bothered about the weather because we’ve got a game for bad conditions and a game for good conditions. We’ll adapt accordingly depending on how things are on the night, but the big thing for me is the atmosphere. Our crowd really get into these Friday night games, the noise is tremendous and if the players can feed off that then we’re in good shape.”

Welcoming back a number of his international players, the Falcons boss added: “The international boys have been in great form since coming back. Our three guys with Scotland are itching for a game after not getting on against France, Evan Olmstead is back from Canada’s World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and they’ve all been top drawer.”

Enjoying the Six Nations as a fan as well as a director of rugby, he said: “It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, to be honest.

“Like everyone else I’m just a rugby fan when it comes down to it, and I can watch the games partly as an England supporter and partly as a rugby coach looking at the various trends. I enjoy doing the fantasy league and the prediction pool, although I’m stuck in mid-table in our Falcons office league. The chef and the kit man are both beating me, which is a bit galling, but it’s all good fun and we have a good bit of banter about it.”

Friday’s game is not being televised live in the UK, so being there in person is the only way to see all the action. Tickets are available by calling 0871 226 6060 or [**clicking here**][1].

**Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium)**

15 Alex Tait

14 Vereniki Goneva

13 Chris Harris

12 Josh Matavesi

11 Sinoti Sinoti

10 Toby Flood

9 Michael Young (captain)

1 Rob Vickers

2 Kyle Cooper

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Will Witty

6 Evan Olmstead

7 Nili Latu

8 Ally Hogg


16 Scott Lawson

17 Sam Lockwood

18 Trevor Davison

19 Ryan Burrows

20 Callum Chick

21 Sonatane Takulua

22 Joel Hodgson

23 Maxime Mermoz

**Bath Rugby**

15 James Wilson

14 Aled Brew

13 Will Hurrell

12 Ben Tapuai

11 Cooper Vuna

10 Freddie Burns

9 Kahn Fotuali’i

1 Lucas Noguera

2 Ross Batty

3 Max Lahiff

4 James Phillips

5 Elliott Stooke

6 Matt Garvey (captain)

7 Paul Grant

8 Zach Mercer


16 Nathan Charles

17 Beno Obano

18 Anthony Perenise

19 Levi Douglas

20 Josh Bayliss

21 Chris Cook

22 Josh Lewis

23 Jeff Williams

**Referee:** Matthew Carley