Team news: Graham to make Premiership debut at Wasps

Friday 17 November 2017 Written by: Adam

In doing so the flank-forward follows in the footsteps of his father George, the Scottish international prop who was a Premiership title winner with the Falcons back in 1998.

Gary has already featured prominently for the Falcons in cup action since his summer arrival, scoring three tries in four appearances to help Newcastle to the top of their group in both the Anglo-Welsh Cup and European Challenge Cup. The former Carlisle, Gala and Jersey man grounded the bonus point try in their 53-41 Anglo-Welsh Cup win at Wasps on November 4, following it up with a late score in last weekend’s 57-0 thrashing of Cardiff Blues having previously scored in the 32-27 home win over the Dragons.

He joins a side which sees Maxime Mermoz making his first Aviva Premiership start for the club, the French centre having been part of Newcastle’s victorious Anglo-Welsh Cup trip to the Ricoh Arena less than a fortnight ago. Mermoz is partnered by last week’s man of the match Josh Matavesi, Alex Tait moving from full-back to the wing as Simon Hammersley returns from injury.

Toby Flood comes in at fly-half in a line-up which sees a first Aviva Premiership start for Sam Stuart, the scrum-half who arrived from Richmond in the summer, while Jon Welsh packs down at tight-head following his midweek stint with the Scotland squad.

Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “It’ll be a tough game down there, of that we have absolutely no doubt. When we played Wasps in the cup two weeks ago it wasn’t their best team and there’ll be a lot of boys coming back into the fold, so it will be a great test for us.

“Our defence has to be at its absolute best and there has been a lot of focus on that. Our defence overall this season has been better than it has been for the past four or five years, and we’re starting to turn into a half-reasonable side. It’s going in the right direction but we’re not there yet.

“We have won all four of our cup games so in that respect we are doing alright, but we’re smarting from our last Aviva Premiership game which was a home loss to Leicester in front of our first full house in nine years.

“We didn’t do it on the day against a very good Tigers team, but with a little more accuracy we’d have been in with a chance of winning it. We talk about repeated actions and being accurate with it, and there’s a reason why we do that. It’s to get us over that line in tight games against top sides, and the guys have taken that frustration and channelled it in a positive way during our recent Anglo-Welsh Cup games.”

Winger Adam Radwan has been among the names catching the headlines during the cup interlude, and even in his absence this weekend Richards is at pains to praise the progress of the Teesside teenager.

The director of rugby said: “There’s no doubt about it that Adam is outstanding from a finishing point of view, and he has gas to burn. He reminds me very much of myself when I was a player – I wish – but he’s adapting, adjusting and working on the areas of his game where he knows he needs to improve. He is getting on with that job at the moment and he is just one of a number of guys who have shone in the cups.

“Gary Graham is another, and he comes in for a well-deserved Premiership debut. He is very much like his father in that he is a real no-nonsense player, he has no airs and graces and is someone who just gets on with it.”

Keen to keep things tight after shipping six tries on their last visit to the Ricoh Arena, Richards said: “Even in victory at Wasps a fortnight ago the boys weren’t happy with their defensive performance, and there was a massive emphasis on not conceding a single try against Cardiff Blues last weekend. As it turned out we didn’t even concede one point, and even when we were 50 points up you saw every man sprinting back the second Cardiff made any sort of line-break. That’s the kind of urgency we demanded, and you can see how much the lads want to play for each other.

“Discipline will also be incredibly important on Saturday, by which I don’t only mean conceding penalties. It’s about sticking to our plan and the boys are starting to do that very well – they’re on top of their game and they understand how we’re trying to play. It’s just about delivering it week in, week out, when you’re playing against good teams in an incredibly competitive league like the Premiership.”

Missing six of his players due to international call-ups (Sonatane Takulua, Vereniki Goneva, DTH van der Merwe, Evan Olmstead, Jake Ilnicki and Nick Civetta) Richards said: “I always see players being selected by their country as an opportunity for someone else to come in.

“Yeah, it’s not ideal having guys away but it’s an honour for those players to represent their countries, and you just accept it as the way it is. It’s been there for a long time, there’s no point fighting it and we just embrace it as an opportunity for boys to come in and show their wares. Across the board we have competition for places, and that’s a big part of what is driving us forward.”

**Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Saturday, 5.15pm, Ricoh Arena)**

15 Simon Hammersley

14 Alex Tait

13 Maxime Mermoz

12 Josh Matavesi

11 Sinoti Sinoti

10 Toby Flood

9 Sam Stuart

1 Rob Vickers

2 Scott Lawson

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Sean Robinson

6 Will Welch (captain)

7 Gary Graham

8 Mark Wilson


16 Kyle Cooper

17 Sami Mavinga

18 Scott Wilson

19 Will Witty

20 Nili Latu

21 Joel Hodgson

22 Juan Pablo Socino

23 Chris Harris


15 Willie Le Roux

14 Christian Wade

13 Juan De Jongh

12 Kyle Eastmond

11 Josh Bassett

10 Jimmy Gopperth

9 Dan Robson

1 Simon McIntyre

2 Ashley Johnson (captain)

3 Jake Cooper-Woolley

4 Will Rowlands

5 James Gaskell

6 James Haskell

7 Thomas Young

8 Guy Thompson


16 Nathan Charles

17 Ben Harris

18 Marty Moore

19 Kearnan Myall

20 Nizaam Carr

21 Joe Simpson

22 Rob Miller

23 Gabiriele Lovobalavu