Simon Hammersley makes his first Aviva Premiership appearance in more than nine months as Newcastle Falcons kick off the new season at home to Worcester Warriors tomorrow (7.45pm).
The fit-again full-back has scored in his last two pre-season appearances after recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear sustained last November, and forms part of a Falcons side which sees a competitive debut for Fijian international centre Josh Matavesi.
Sonatane Takulua starts at scrum-half in the week the Tongan signed a new four-year deal with the club, Joel Hodgson at fly-half in a side captained by flanker Will Welch.
Summer signings Toby Flood and DTH van der Merwe miss out with minor niggles, England international Mark Wilson taking up his place in the back row after a summer which saw him making his international debut in a 2-0 series win in Argentina.
“Pre-season is behind the boys now and we’re into the proper business,” said director of rugby Dean Richards.
“There have been enough weight training sessions, enough on-field running sessions and enough cardiovascular sessions. The boys have had enough of it to be honest with you because they just want to get out there and play. We’re going out there to score tries, we’ve put together a squad capable of doing that and there’s a huge amount of excitement around the club.”
Having defeated Doncaster (31-8), Nottingham (49-19) and Rotherham (59-14), Newcastle’s campaign of summer friendlies ended with a 14-10 reverse away to Edinburgh last Friday, despite outscoring the Scots two tries to one.
Richards said: “Our pre-season started well and we scored a lot of tries against Championship opposition. We were a little disappointed to lose narrowly against Edinburgh last weekend but we created a lot of opportunities, and in many ways that game was the kick up the backside we needed going into the Aviva Premiership.
“Worcester will provide a very similar approach to the game as Edinburgh did, and it will be quite a battle. I’m pleased we played against Edinburgh when we did because it has been ideal preparation. Worcester will have a few tricks up their sleeve in terms of what they do from first phase but they won’t change too much from what they showed last season, especially towards the back end when Gary Gold came in.”
With new laws to contend with under the eye of top international referee Wayne Barnes, Richards said: “We relish having Wayne in the middle because he is very consistent in everything he does, and he rarely pulls a rabbit out of the hat. As far as the new laws are concerned some are interesting and some won’t have that much of an effect. The changes around the scrum laws will be interesting in terms of interpretations, and what happens at the breakdown. It’s just a case of getting used to them quickly, and hopefully we will be able to do that.”
Out to start the league season with a victory for the second successive year after last season’s highest Premiership finish in 11 years, he added: “The feeling in the camp is great and everyone has rightly talked about that, but we’ve still got to go out there and deliver.
“Goodwill and good feeling doesn’t get you an Aviva Premiership win. It’s a big part of what we are about, but you’ve still got to turn up on the day and do it. Last weekend against Edinburgh proved that, but the unity and team ethic we have will certainly help pull us through at times during the season.
“The season lasts for nearly 40 weeks so we’re not going to get overly emotional about the first few games. We know they’re important and are throwing everything at this first block, but it’s the long term that concerns us and how we end up doing over the course of the season. Worcester and Sale first up are games where we need to be at our best, but games which are achievable. Saracens in America is a cup final in many ways, and everyone knows strange things can happen in cup finals. We’re looking forward to all three and will take from them what we can, and it’s all about working hard to implement what we’ve been doing in training.
“I’ve missed it – I really have. All the boys in the coaching office, all the club’s staff and all the playing squad are absolutely up for the season, and I don’t think there’s a better crowd in rugby than Kingston Park on a Friday night.”
Tickets for Friday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Worcester Warriors (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Alex Tait
13 Chris Harris
12 Josh Matavesi
11 Belisario Agulla
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Rob Vickers
2 Kyle Cooper
3 Jon Welsh
4 Calum Green
5 Will Witty
6 Mark Wilson
7 Will Welch (captain)
8 Callum Chick
16 Scott Lawson
17 Sami Mavinga
18 Trevor Davison
19 Tevita Cavubati
20 Nili Latu
21 Sam Stuart
22 Craig Willis
23 Juan Pablo Socino