Newcastle Falcons have made just one change for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership visit to Leicester Tigers, Sinoti Sinoti returning on the left wing.
The Samoan international was part of the Falcons side which won 25-23 at Welford Road at the back end of April, Newcastle’s first win there in 20 years, the Falcons otherwise sticking to the same group which ran champions Saracens close in last weekend’s opener.
Newcastle travel to the East Midlands in the week that the Tigers parted company with head coach Matt O’Connor, Falcons defence coach John Wells saying: “I’ve kind of got mixed feelings about it.
“Leicester as a club needed a response from what happened last weekend at Exeter, and also what happened when we went down there and beat them at the end of April. The cynic in me says they’ve made the decision at the time that they have because Newcastle are going down there on Saturday – they know it’s going to be a rough, tough game and they need to squeeze that extra little bit of toothpaste out of the tube to beat us.
“The fact that it’s Newcastle, with everything that happened in such a key fixture the last time we played them, and the fact we have a lot of ex-Leicester guys in our squad and management team, I do think they’ve timed it so that they get the maximum reaction from their guys on Saturday. It was always going to be a difficult game for us anyway, let’s be fair, because it’s their first home game after a big loss, but if you factor in the fact they’ve changed head coach, it makes it an incredibly tough fixture.”
With Geordan Murphy placed in interim charge, a man Wells knows from his own time at Leicester Tigers, the Falcons defence coach said: “Time will tell whether or not Geordan will be good at the role.
“I don’t think he’ll have a great deal of influence over the next two or three weeks in terms of how he does his job, because these next few games will be played largely on emotion. After that initial period it will be about how he formulates his plans and makes big decisions, but these next couple will be his emotion, the players’ emotion and also the crowd’s. They’ll all want to do well for him, and it’s how we as a club handle that. We know what’s coming because there’s enough ex-Leicester experience in our dressing room, but it’s a case of can we deal with it?
“Geordan was a left-field player capable of doing anything with a rugby ball, but he was also a much tougher character than many people gave him credit for. He was a fantastically talented individual who could do anything from nothing, and he’ll want to try and get that across to the guys who are playing for him this weekend.
“The reality is he can’t influence that much in such a short space of time, and they’ll still have the underlying elements – good and bad – from their previous regime. It’s a case of what mind-set he is able to transmit into them in the space of five or six days, and they’ll be asking do we stay structured or do we just go out and play?
“I think, because a lot of the game will be played on the crowd and the players’ emotions, a lot of their decisions will be made on the hoof. In a way that’s more difficult to defend against, whereas with a really planned and structured team, however good they are, you know what’s coming.
“It all comes down to how well we can deal with the whole day and everything they throw at us, and how we can impose our own game plan on them more than they can put theirs on to us.”
Relishing the opportunity to return to a club where he spent his entire playing career and a large part of his coaching life, Wells said: “I’ll be honest, I love going back to Leicester.
“The crowd are always brilliant with Deano and I, and with all the ex-Tigers players who are now in our squad. It’s all good-natured, the banter is actually quite funny a lot of the time and I think it’s great that we can still have that in our game. All the staff at Tigers are really welcoming towards us, I don’t think that will ever change, and it’s only natural that we still have a lot of love for the club.
“Having said all that, we’re at a different club now and we’re working under different parameters. We want Newcastle to be successful, and that’s where our responsibilities lie.”
Newcastle Falcons team to play Leicester Tigers (Saturday, 3pm, Welford Road)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Chris Harris
12 Josh Matavesi
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Sami Mavinga
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi’i Mulipola
4 Calum Green
5 Will Witty
6 Mark Wilson
7 Will Welch (captain)
8 Callum Chick
16 Santiago Socino
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Jack Payne
19 Tevita Cavubati
20 Gary Graham
21 Sam Stuart
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Alex Tait
Referee: Matthew Carley