Newcastle Falcons have made four changes for Sunday’s visit of London Scottish in the RFU Championship (kick-off 3.15pm).
Mark Wilson replaces Ally Hogg in the back-row with the latter side-lined with an injury picked up in last week’s 93-0 British and Irish Cup victory over Newport, while Carlo del Fava returns to the engine room after recovering from a hand injury.
Tongan international Suka Hufanga partners Jamie Helleur at the heart of the Falcons backline, and Alex Tait comes in for Jimmy Gopperth at full-back. Gopperth is denied his 100th appearance with an ankle injury.
Victory over the Londoners will make it 12 wins out of 12 in the league and 16 out of 16 in all competitions as the feel good factor for rugby in the North East continues to blossom.
Director of rugby Dean Richards is expecting a tough examination from a Scottish outfit, who picked up a try bonus-point against the Falcons in Richmond earlier this season.
“They’re a quality side and they play some lovely rugby,” said Richards.
He added: “They have a talented fly-half and I think it will be a difficult challenge for us. That said, we are in good shape and we are very much looking forward to the game on Sunday.”
One player who has impressed the Falcons boss with a string of solid outings is local talent Joel Hodgson. Newcastle-born Hodgson, 20, has progressed through the club’s academy system and is now delighted to be playing regular first team rugby.
Hodgson said: “We’ve singled out a few boys who we see as their main threat and if we keep those individuals quiet, in effect we’ll be keeping London Scottish quiet.
In terms of our attacking game, we will just stick to what we’ve been doing throughout the season. Hopefully the fans can see us play an expansive, exciting style of rugby”
Fans favourite Rob Vickers believes his side need to be better than when they last met Scottish earlier in the season.
The northeasterners narrowly defeated the Londoners 49-32 on a baking hot day in Richmond back in September.
Vickers said: “When we played them at the start of the season they scored 32 points against us which is more than any other team we’ve played.
“We’ve got to really lick our wounds from that, and we certainly don’t want to concede 32 points this week.”
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Suka Hufanga, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Rory Lawson, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 James Hudson, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Richard Mayhew, 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Chris York, 20 Warren Fury, 21 Waisea Luveniyali, 22 Alex Crockett