Vereniki Goneva is back for Newcastle Falcons as they play host to Wasps in Friday night’s Gallagher Premiership clash at Kingston Park Stadium.
The reigning Premiership player of the season returns after two weeks out through injury, Samoan international Sinoti Sinoti coming back onto the other wing after missing last week’s visit of Exeter Chiefs.
Fijian international Tevita Cavubati comes in at lock-forward for the 7.45pm kick-off in the only other change from the side which became the first this season to take a losing bonus point from the unbeaten Chiefs, and the first to prevent them from scoring a four-try bonus point.
USA international Paul Mullen could be set for his Premiership debut after being named among the replacements, the tight-head having scored for Newcastle’s second-string during their 54-13 home Shield win over Leicester Tigers on Monday night.
Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Wasps are a side we’ve struggled to beat in recent years, a little bit like Worcester were before we put that record to bed two weeks ago.
“Wasps have a couple of boys out, as do we, and I think everything’s up for grabs. We’ve had a good look at things and we’re working hard to come away with the spoils, but we’re under no illusions because it’s going to take a big effort against a good side.
“It’ll be a big challenge on Friday but it’s one we’re looking forward to. Wasps are a force and they score a lot of points. Maybe defence isn’t always their primary focus but all they’ve ever endeavoured to do is score more points than the opposition, and they’re very effective at it.”
Recording one win from four and taking a couple of bonus points from a testing start to the season, Richards said: “We knew the first six weeks were always going to be difficult, and what will be will be in that regard.
“At the same time we’re playing reasonable rugby, we’re not always seeing that reflected in the result and therein lies the frustration for the players and coaches. Sometimes we can let those frustrations fester a little bit, but you don’t really want those feelings to hang around. We want to crack on, put the previous game to bed regardless of the result and then get on with the next one.
“I’ll be honest and say it’s been hard to put the Exeter game to bed because we feel we deserved a little bit more from it, but that’s just life and you have to move on.
“In terms of the Gallagher Premiership as a whole, you look at the top two in Saracens and Exeter and you pretty much know they’re going to be up there at the end of the season, but below that it’s dog eat dog. I think everybody on their day can beat each other, and it’s quite interesting what’s happening in the division at the moment.”
Adamant that Newcastle’s squad mind-set is a major factor working in their favour, Richards said: “A lot of attention in rugby understandably goes on the 15 or the 23 guys who are playing for the first team, but alongside that we have a great culture here which is so important to what we’re doing.
“For example our A-Team put 50-odd points on Leicester on Monday, which was great on the one hand because it was an opportunity for a number of guys to put their hands up for selection, but also really pleasing on the night was the fact that pretty much every first team player came down to support them.
“They enjoy each other’s company, they want each other to do well even when they’re competing for the same places and it’s a really positive environment in that respect.”
Tickets for Friday’s 7.45pm kick-off can be bought by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Chris Harris
12 Johnny Williams
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Adam Brocklebank
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi’i Mulipola
4 Calum Green
5 Tevita Cavubati
6 Gary Graham
7 Will Welch (captain)
8 Mark Wilson
16 Santiago Socino
17 Sami Mavinga
18 Paul Mullen
19 Will Witty
20 Callum Chick
21 Sam Stuart
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Tom Penny
Referee: Karl Dickson