Team news: Falcons named to face Gloucester

Saturday 29 January 2022 Written by: Adam

Will Welch returns to captain a team showing six changes from the one which won 17-13 away to French club Biarritz in their last game on January 14.

Argentina internationals Matias Orlando and Mateo Carreras are both added to the back line, with the other four changes coming in the forward pack. George McGuigan comes back in at hooker with Jamie Blamire unavailable due to England duty, Sean Robinson returns in the second row, while the back row sees Welch joined by Philip van der Walt.

Club captain Mark Wilson is poised to make a first appearance of the season following summer knee surgery, with the Rugby World Cup finalist named on a bench which could also see a first team debut for prop Conrad Cade.

The loose-head has spent much of the last two seasons on loan at Championship side Doncaster Knights, with director of rugby Dean Richards admitting it has been a disrupted last month for the Falcons after their cancelled games against Toulon and Sale Sharks.

“We’ve got a team for this weekend, which is good news after last week’s struggles and the cancelled game against Toulon,” said Richards.

“From the middle of December onwards we’ve had 30 people affected by Covid within the squad, so it’s been a difficult month. Just when we thought we were getting out of it we had to go over to Biarritz, and then another ten boys went down with it.

“We’ve had quite a hard month on the back of all that, but we’re coming out the other side now. It’s funny, because as a squad we’ve worked really hard to try not to be affected by Covid too much since the start of the pandemic, and on the occasions where we have had positive tests we’ve generally been pretty good at containing it and quickly getting those guys isolated.

“This new variant has knocked us sideways because it just spreads so quickly and easily, and it’s had a big impact on the team. But that’s life, that’s the world we live in at the moment. It certainly affects preparation, but at the same time you just have to get on with it. If it makes us the underdogs, then happy days. We’re always the underdogs and we’re used to people writing us off, so it’s even more so at the moment.

“You need your big players and your guys with that bit of stardust to be out on the field on a consistent basis, and over the last month or so we’ve just not been able to do that. It’s definitely affected us, but now that we seem to be coming through it you’ll see a notable upturn in performances, and ultimately results, over the next few weeks.”

Revealing it was not just the playing side of the squad which has been affected by positive tests, Richards said: “As well as the disruption with the players, we’ve had three of the coaching staff go down with it.

“I thought I’d got away with it but we had to go over to Biarritz, then lo and behold I came down with it after that trip. You just have to make the best of it, and while I’ve not been able to be around the club in person for more than a week, it just gives you that time to reflect. The first couple of nights I felt a little bit rough, but other than that it was just normal. I’m feeling good, thankfully, and my isolation will be up by the time the game comes around.

“Having that little time away just allows you to take stock, and despite the disappointment of our last home performance against Northampton I’m still happy that we have a lot of good, homegrown players within our squad, and more coming through.

“Pretty much every week more than half of our match-day squad is made up of guys who have come through our academy, and that’s really something to be proud of. We’re sticking to our guns on that, we’re developing our own talent, and maybe that’s at the expense of bringing in some higher-profile people. We just believe that’s the right way for us to go, and we’re blessed to have so much talent in our local area as well as an academy set-up which keeps on delivering, time after time.”

Missing Jamie Blamire due to England training duty, Richards was asked if he was surprised not to have more players unavailable after seeing four of his squad earning full England caps in the last year.

“Yes and no,” said the Falcons boss, who is glad to have 23-times-capped flanker Mark Wilson back from injury.

“If Eddie Jones is going by his word and picking on form, then our form over the last month probably hasn’t been that great. Before that it was fine, but you’ve got to stick to your guns if you’ve come out and said you’re picking on form. Obviously the guys who have missed out will be desperate to get back in there, and if they’re playing well for the Falcons and we’re performing as a team, then they’re in the best possible position to make that happen.

“As for Mark Wilson – he has hardly played any rugby over the past year or so, but he’ll play a part on Saturday and it’s great to have him available again.”

Having lost just twice at home this season in all competitions, Richards highlighted the Kingston Park factor as another weapon in Newcastle’s armoury on Saturday, as they look to repeat the 22-10 victory they enjoyed over Gloucester in January of last year.

“I’ve said it loads of times before but I’ve not changed my mind one bit on this – Kingston Park is a special place to come and play your rugby,” he said.

“Teams don’t like coming up here, the crowd get right into it and our record on our own patch is a good one, overall. Our supporters are a big part of that and I’m sure they’ll get right behind the team, as they always do.”

[**Click here**][1] to buy tickets for Saturday’s game, which is being shown live in the UK on BT Sport.

**Newcastle Falcons team v Gloucester Rugby (Saturday, 7pm, Kingston Park Stadium)**

15 Mike Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Philip van der Walt, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Callum Chick.

**Replacements:** 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Conrad Cade, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Gary Graham, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Tom Penny.

**Gloucester Rugby:** 15 Lloyd Evans, 14 Santiago Carreras, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Charlie Chapman; 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin, 2 Jack Singleton, 3 Fraser Balmain, 4 Ed Slater, 5 Freddie Clarke, 6 Jordy Reid, 7 Lewis Ludlow (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann.

**Replacements:** 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Kirill Gotovtsev, 19 Andrew Davidson, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Giorgi Kveseladze, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit.

**Referee:** Jack Makepeace.