Team news: Falcons side to face London Irish
The three-time Currie Cup winner has been capped by South Africa, and steps into the side after making four appearances from the bench following his summer move from Super Rugby side, the Sharks.
He forms a new-look half-back partnership with Joel Hodgson, who takes the No 10 shirt in one of four changes from the side which defeated Gloucester last time out.
Hooker George McGuigan, who scored the last of Newcastle’s three tries in the 22-10 triumph, returns to the starting XV, the only other change seeing England’s Mark Wilson replaced by Philip van der Walt in the back row.
Sean Robinson and Toby Flood jointly captain the side in Wilson’s absence, while Newcastle’s bench could see a Premiership debut for homegrown lock Will Montgomery, plus the return of John Hardie from injury.
Director of rugby Dean Richards is expecting a stern test on the Falcons’ first visit to Brentford Community Stadium, saying: “It’s about how we get back on the horse and start winning again, and it’ll be a hard game down there.
“In a way it’s a little bit difficult to gauge what we’re going to be up against at London Irish, because they’ve only played a few games and have had a lot of guys out through injury.
“When you look down their squad list on paper they can put out an incredible side, and be top two or three material. If everyone’s fit it’s a hell of a team, but in terms of analysis it’s hard to gauge what their style is because they’ve not played a lot of matches and they’ve not quite managed to get their best side out.
“As to how that affects our preparation, it just puts your focus more on your own game, which, to be fair, we try to do anyway.
“We understand what they offer from a defensive system point of view, and in that sense it hasn’t changed even with different personnel appearing from time to time. In attack, similarly, there are allsorts of traits that they have, but with having hardly seen them these last couple of months we just have to be wary of the little bits and pieces they will spring on us on the day.”
Having had two free weekends following the forced cancellation of the European window, Richards said: “We’d had eight months without a game from March until October and then had our Boxing Day match cancelled, so we weren’t in desperate need of a rest.
“We’d also been off the back of a win against Gloucester, we felt we were getting back into the groove and you just want to continue that momentum. It’s a shame the European fortnight got cancelled because it’s a competition which gives great exposure to a lot of our players, and as much as you don’t really want that two-week break you just have to get on with it and use the time accordingly.”
Having this week seen Six Nations call-ups for Scotland’s Gary Graham and England’s Mark Wilson, Richards was asked if the absence of key men over the coming weeks will hamper his side’s progress.
“They’re both on the back row, and it’s always difficult when you lose multiple players in the same part of the team,” he said.
“Having said that, we’re obviously delighted with their call-ups and wish them well for the Six Nations. We’ve got some great players to drop in there and some boys who are coming back through injury, so it is what it is. It’s an opportunity for other guys to come in and show us what they can do, and that’s the way I look at it.
“It’s great that Mark and Gary have been selected by their countries, although I’m surprised that people like George McGuigan and Trevor Davison haven’t been recognised. They’re playing exceptionally well, as is Sean Robinson and the likes of Adam Radwan, and sometimes you just need that break. From a front-row perspective Trevor and George have been absolutely outstanding, and Sean has been exceptional on the blind-side.”
Going into this weekend’s round of matches placed second in the Gallagher Premiership table with just one defeat to their name, Richards said: “We’re delighted with the start we’ve made and none of us are going to downplay that, but the beauty of the personalities we have here means everyone is looking forward.
“Undeniably it brings a feelgood factor into the environment on a Monday morning when you have that win on the board, but at the same time we just park it quickly and start looking ahead to the next one. The players don’t need any cajoling in that sense, which is great, and they’re just really professional in how they go about their preparation.
“As well as the people who have probably grabbed the headlines it’s been pleasing for us to see our younger guys making a big impact – people like Jamie Blamire, Adam Brocklebank, Connor Collett, Adam Radwan, George Wacokecoke, Tom Penny and Ben Stevenson to name just a few.
“Those guys have proven to us that we shouldn’t be afraid of dropping them in and giving them game time, and I’ve been absolutely delighted by the contribution everyone has made.”
**Newcastle Falcons team to play London Irish (Sunday, 2.30pm, Brentford Community Stadium, live on BT Sport Extra 2)**
15 Tom Penny
14 Adam Radwan
13 Matias Orlando
12 Toby Flood (co-captain)
11 Ben Stevenson
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Louis Schreuder
1 Trevor Davison
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi’i Mulipola
4 Greg Peterson
5 Marco Fuser
6 Sean Robinson (co-captain)
7 Philip van der Walt
8 Gary Graham
16 Jamie Blamire
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Mark Tampin
19 Will Montgomery
20 John Hardie
21 Sam Stuart
22 Brett Connon
23 George Wacokecoke
**London Irish:** 15 Tom Parton, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Nick Phipps; 1 Will Goodrick-Clarke, 2 Agustin Creevy, 3 Sekope Kepu, 4 Steve Mafi, 5 Rob Simmons, 6 Matt Rogerson (captain), 7 Seàn O’Brien, 8 Albert Tuisue.
**Replacements:** 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Lovejoy Chawatama, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Ben Donnell, 21 Blair Cowan, 22 Ben Meehan, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
**Referee:** Matthew Carley