Newcastle Falcons have named their team for Saturday’s European Challenge Cup visit of unbeaten group leaders Ospreys, club captain Will Welch among the players coming into the side for the 5pm Kingston Park kick-off.
Welch returns to captain the Falcons from the blind-side flank, fellow back-row man Mark Wilson also starting in a pack which sees Calum Green slot into the second row.
Kyle Cooper makes his first start for Newcastle after playing 70 minutes from the bench last weekend, the South African hooker having joined the club in the summer after making 100 appearances for the Sharks and Natal Sharks in Super Rugby and Currie Cup.
Craig Willis keeps his place after a 100% goal-kicking performance last time out, Michael Young returning at scrum-half in a back line which sees Chris Harris continue at outside centre following a try in last week’s comeback from long-term injury.
Alex Tait replaces Brett Connon at full-back, Tom Catterick earning a start on the wing for a Falcons side who have won both of this season’s home games in Challenge Cup pool action (50-7 v Grenoble and 42-12 v Lyon).
Backs and attack coach Dave Walder said: “We will be playing a good Ospreys team, whoever they send up, because they are packed with superstars.
“They tend to rest one or two players max at a time, so it should be a really good challenge for our guys to be playing against a number of potential Wales and Lions internationals. It’s dead rubber for us in terms of qualification, but there are no excuses for not being up for it when you look at the calibre of players we are up against.
“I remember going back to my own playing days – I can just about remember that long ago – these are the games you get up for. Some of our players will have been watching their guys on TV for the last four or five years as youngsters coming through the ranks, and now they have the chance to play against them.
“We are at home, it has been a disappointing European campaign on the whole because of where we are in the pool, but this is a chance to put one over a side full of stars. It is an exciting time for the guys and it’s also important we don’t lose our momentum. Our home crowd have been great to us this season, we are slowly building our crowd numbers and it would be great for those guys to see us beat a side like Ospreys.”
Having lost heavily in the reverse fixture at Liberty Stadium earlier in the campaign, the former England fly-half said: “We were disappointed by the way in which they blew us away down there, and we got caught a little bit in the headlights. When things started to go against us we didn’t regroup at all, and they are a very experienced side who kicked on from there.
“The scoreline that night may drive on a few of the guys, but it’s not something we have spoken about. There has been no chat about revenge or anything like that during our preparation, it is just about turning up and doing a job against an international-standard team. It’s an exciting challenge.
“Both teams like to attack and have a go. I’d probably say we are slightly more structured than they are, but at the same time they have an organised defence. Brad Davis has had success with Wasps and Bath, and his teams are set up so they are hard to score against. Our attack is just starting to click, and it’s a good challenge for us.
“It is a chance for me as a backs and attack coach to coach against one of the top defence coaches around, because Ospreys are one of the best defences in Europe. From my side it’s a good challenge to try and find some holes and score some tries against them, and from the group perspective it’s important we go toe to toe with them.”
Having seen Chris Harris make a scoring return last week after four months out with an ankle injury, Walder is pleased by the additional problems the fit-again Cumbrian can cause for opponents.
“Chris did really well and it was great to see him back out there,” said the Premiership and Heineken Cup winner.
“He scored a try in the first few minutes and even put up a ghost fend against a defender who wasn’t anywhere near him! It was a great finish, and he adds that individual threat. We maybe haven’t had that in the 13 channel for a while, and his strengths are slightly different to the guys who have done a job there. Those guys have got things right and helped us turn that corner in the league, but it’s good now to have a slightly different option because it means we have a number of styles we can use down that 13 channel.”
Assessing the European campaign as a whole, he added: “The Challenge Cup has been frustrating for us this season, and it didn’t start too well away at Ospreys. We put in a decent performance for the first 20-25 minutes and then they blew us away a little bit. It was a case of a very experienced Ospreys side against a young Newcastle team, and then we turned things around with a big home win over Grenoble.
“That performance has helped our attack in the Premiership because it was the first time we played with a real ambition, freedom and intensity, then our back-to-back games versus Lyon provided a loss over there before putting it right at home the week after.
“In terms of Grenoble away last Friday, I thought the group would have handled all the external factors like the snow, the pitch being cleared late on and the posts only just going up before kick-off. In effect Grenoble snuck it late on and we didn’t do enough to deserve to win the game. That was the disappointing thing, but we have a great chance now to bow out on a positive note.
“The Challenge Cup has also been great in terms of getting exposure to some more of our players. Ben Harris came in last week and our scrum was rock solid, which was great. Will Witty was back, Chris Harris scored on his comeback, Craig Willis is getting a run at 10 and it’s good to see him there because he has been knocking on the door.
“Craig has probably been a little bit hard done by, looking at his form at the end of last season into this season. He was first or second choice last season, but the way things have panned out this season he wasn’t getting a game due to Mike Delany starting and then Joel Hodgson doing really well when he came in. Craig hasn’t done anything wrong and really controlled things last week in Grenoble despite not having much possession, so for him it is an opportunity.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Ospreys (Saturday, 5pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Alex Tait
14 Tom Catterick
13 Chris Harris
12 Dominic Waldouck
11 Fred Burdon
10 Craig Willis
9 Michael Young
1 Ben Harris
2 Kyle Cooper
3 David Wilson
4 Calum Green
5 Sean Robinson
6 Will Welch (captain)
7 Daniel Temm
8 Mark Wilson
16 David Nelson
17 Rob Vickers
18 Jon Welsh
19 Mouritz Botha
20 Harrison Orr
21 Sam Egerton
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Dan Marshall
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (France)