Sinoti Sinoti makes his comeback at home to Bath Rugby on Saturday as Newcastle Falcons welcome a host of fit-again stars for the Anglo-Welsh Cup clash at Kingston Park Stadium (kick-off 3pm).
The Samoan wing has been sidelined for the past two and a half months with a knee injury and forms part of a Falcons side showing the full 15 changes from last weekend’s 18-6 victory at Newport Gwent Dragons.
Mike Delany returns at full-back after overcoming a hamstring injury, while Tonga captain Nili Latu is in line for a first appearance of the season having been named among the replacements. Last year’s players’ player of the season is yet to play a single minute for the club this term after injuring his knee on international duty in June, and joins a replacement contingent which sees Tom Penny included for the first time this season after breaking his arm in the summer.
Centre Nick Reynolds makes his debut after joining the club from London Welsh, Craig Willis taking the reins at as he hopes to continue the 100% goal-kicking form demonstrated in his recent outings against Grenoble and Ospreys.
Loose-head Adam Brocklebank makes his first start for the Falcons, Paddy Ryan packing down on the tight-head side as hooker Ben Sowrey returns from injury. Mouritz Botha comes in to partner Glen Young in the second row, Opeti Fonua adding ballast to the back-row alongside Harrison Orr and Tyrone Holmes.
Newcastle Falcons skills coach Mark Laycock has played an instrumental role in preparing the team for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off as the club rotate their management resources, saying: “It is definitely useful in terms of getting more used to that first team environment and it’s brilliant for the likes of myself and our academy head coach James Ponton to be involved in this way.
“We’re grateful to our director of rugby Dean Richards for giving us the opportunity, and it’s good to experience those differences. As coaches it’s a great learning opportunity to be around top-end international players, and likewise for some of the younger players who are coming in this week.
“I’d like to think it works quite well having myself and Jimmy here to help facilitate the younger guys who are stepping up, and possibly to give a bit of a fresh voice to some of the senior boys. What we need to understand is that some of the players are at very different stages of their careers, but that we need to pull them together to make one cohesive team.
“Some of our first team players are already helping coach the academy with people like Adam Powell, Fred Burdon and Mark Wilson. That is really helping educate our up-and-coming players, and for us to help them understand what is required at the higher level is the biggest thing.”
Purring at the prospect of players like Sinoti and Latu returning from long-term absence, Laycock said: “Sinoti brings a huge amount of excitement. He has had a good week in training, he is itching to get playing again and hopefully he can show some of the dazzling footwork everyone knows him for. Attacking-wise he can really get us on the front foot, which is why he is in the team.
“Nili has had a long injury lay-off and he is relieved now to be through it. We are all looking forward to getting him back on the pitch given the impact and intensity he brings, and he will definitely add another dimension to the back row.”
Confident that the Bath game still serves a purpose despite their quarter-final hopes having already been dashed, the skills coach said: “We can definitely use this game in a useful manner, even though we’re already out of the competition. A good performance and a win will give us some good momentum going into next Friday’s league game at Sale, and everyone in the team also has their own individual motivations. We are pulling those all together to get everyone aligned, and that has been the focus this week. It feels like the boys are in a good place.
“We’ve had a good training week and have a few guys coming back from injury. That’s exciting, we’re looking forward to it and hopefully we are now ready for whatever Bath throw at us. We have had a look at their Anglo-Welsh and European games. Every club takes each competition differently, and all we are really concerned about is what we can do. That involves going back to our basic structures, making sure we get them right on game day, and that will allow us to play the rugby we want to play.”
The Falcons go into the game on the back of a victory, having defeated Newport Gwent Dragons 18-6 last time out. That was a game which was brought to a premature end due to the state of the Rodney Parade pitch, Laycock insisting the experience will still have proved useful.
He said: “The momentum was the big thing for us, and getting the win. From a performance standpoint it’s hard to read too much into it because the conditions didn’t allow the players to do much, but overall it was a good exercise, albeit on a slightly different tangent to what we were originally hoping for.
“What they can take from it is probably an understanding of the fact you can have a game plan, and sometimes it doesn’t work out how you’d planned for any number of reasons. In this case it was the pitch and the weather, and it becomes a case of who is mentally in the right place. You have to be strong enough to overcome the challenges which come your way, and it was so bad last week that if the ball hit the ground for a single second it became instantly caked in mud.
“It was a day for defence. John Wells and Dave Walder had a chat with the boys in the hotel just before we got on the bus to go to the stadium about how the conditions would affect the game. The boys responded, and it was great to see them adapting like that. They understood it’s not always going to be nice fancy rugby – sometimes you’ve got to just roll up your sleeves and put in the hard yakka.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off are available by calling 0871 226 6060. Supporters are reminded that this game is included in their season ticket membership package, and that the England v France Six Nations game will be shown on the stadium TVs at 4.50pm.
15 Mike Delany
14 Zach Kibirige
13 Nick Reynolds
12 Fred Burdon (captain)
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Craig Willis
9 Michael Young
1 Adam Brocklebank
2 Ben Sowrey
3 Paddy Ryan
4 Mouritz Botha
5 Glen Young
6 Harrison Orr
7 Tyrone Holmes
8 Opeti Fonua
16 David Nelson
17 Rob Vickers
18 Andrew Foster
19 Andrew Davidson
20 Nili Latu
21 Sam Egerton
22 Dan Marshall
23 Tom Penny
Referee: Dewi Phillips