Team news: Penny returns against Harlequins
The full-back spent part of last season with the Twickenham Stoop outfit, and returns as part of a Newcastle side playing their first game since February 7 following the cancellation of their last two fixtures.
Callum Chick makes his first appearance of the campaign with the No 8 having recovered from a knee injury sustained during pre-season – Adam Radwan and Luther Burrell also returning to fitness.
On the bench there could be a debut for Argentina 7s wing Mateo Carreras, director of rugby Dean Richards relishing Saturday’s visit of an in-form Quins side who have won their last four Gallagher Premiership outings.
He said: “Everybody has missed match-day, and this is a really exciting one to come back to.
“It would be a lot nicer if we had our supporters in because we really miss that atmosphere, but hopefully that’s coming in the future, too.
“The boys are up for it. We’ve missed a lot of training over the past two weeks, but ultimately if we can’t drop straight back into it then there’s something wrong with us. We’ve got a fresh squad, a fresh set of legs and we’re raring to go.”
Up against a Harlequins side who have gone unbeaten following last month’s change of management, Richards said: “We’ve only really looked at their last four games, and have put everything prior to that to one side.
“They’re playing in a totally different way now, and it’s obviously very effective for them. We’ve taken on board what they’ve had to offer during those four weeks, and they have strengths in certain areas.
“Danny Care at scrum-half, Marcus Smith at ten, Joe Marchant in the centre, Joe Marler at prop, Dombrandt, Evans and Chisholm in the back row to name just a few – they’re a really good side and they’ll be hard to beat.
“Marcus is a great talent. I probably would have picked him to open up the game for England but that’s not my choice to make, but he certainly has that ability. We have our defensive structures to address that and will adapt those accordingly, but the main focus for us has just been on ourselves.
“We’ve only had two real training sessions in the past three weeks, which obviously presents its own problems, but if we get our shape right and run our plays as we intend to then it should be a good contest.
“The one upside of not playing is that we’re going to be fresher than they are, and that could be important.”
Asked about the disruption at the club with their last two games cancelled and training having been halted for a fortnight, Richards explained: “It’s been a nightmare because we got our season off to a flying start with three wins in a row, but everything has become a little bit disjointed.
“We had our Boxing Day game cancelled, then the two European games, and after getting a couple of Premiership matches played we’ve had another two cancellations over the past fortnight.
“It’s not what anyone wanted but you just have to get on with it, and it means we’re fresh going into Saturday against Harlequins.
“It has affected a couple of the boys, but thankfully not significantly enough for us to have to worry too much about it. We obviously do monitor all the players on a daily basis, and the medical team are fully on top of that side of things.
“The numbers we’re talking about weren’t significantly high compared to some other clubs, it just happened to affect a certain area of the squad over a ten-day period whereby we’ve ended up having to put a halt to our last two games and our training.
“That’s not what anyone wanted – we wanted to be out there playing – and that would have been the best scenario for us. Alas, it wasn’t to be.”
Since Newcastle’s last game on February 7 has come the confirmation that no team will be relegated from the Gallagher Premiership – a decision Richards is in agreement with as his Falcons side enter the 11th round in the top half of the table.
“I think pretty much everybody would agree it would be awful if someone was relegated this season due to points won because games couldn’t be played, and there’s a feeling of unfairness in that respect,” he said.
“Logic has dictated that this year relegation won’t happen, which seems the fairest way to do it, and in terms of what happens beyond this season I’m pretty sure they’re talking about it all the time.
“I think with everything that has happened in the last year there has probably been a reality check – everyone is looking at how the league will be structured and making decisions around that, depending on what they come up with.
“It doesn’t change my approach because I want to win every game regardless, and I know the players will feel the same.
“It maybe takes away that temptation to risk a borderline call when players are coming back from injury or gives you that added little bit of confidence to go with a less experienced player in a 50-50 selection decision, so those could both be positive outcomes from it.
“But other than that, it won’t affect how we prepare for games and how much importance we attach to any fixture.”
**Newcastle Falcons team to face Harlequins (Saturday, 3pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on BT Sport 2 Extra)**
15 Tom Penny
14 Adam Radwan
13 Matias Orlando
12 Luther Burrell
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 (captain)
7 Philip van der Walt
8 Callum Chick
16 Jamie Blamire
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Mark Tampin
19 Darren Barry
20 John Hardie
21 Sam Stuart
22 Brett Connon
23 Mateo Carreras
**Harlequins:** 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Joe Marchant, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Tyrone Green, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Martin Landajo; 1 Joe Marler, 2 Elia Elia, 3 Wilco Louw, 4 Matt Symons, 5 Hugh Tizard, 6 Stephan Lewies (captain), 7 Jack Kenningham, 8 James Chisholm.
**Replacements:** 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Jordan Els, 18 Simon kerrod, 19 Glen Young, 20 Alex Dombrandt, 21 Danny Care, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Louis Lynagh.
**Referee:** Jack Makepeace.