Newcastle Falcons have named their side for tomorrow’s Aviva Premiership opener with Bath Rugby at Kingston Park (kick-off 7.45pm).
No fewer than six of the Falcons’ summer signings are set to make their full debuts as top-flight rugby makes a welcome return to the North East.
Experienced Scots Phil Godman and Mike Blair form a new half-back combination, while former Munster man Danny Barnes gets the nod at centre.
In the pack Franck Montanella starts at loosehead alongside fellow front-rowers Matt Thompson and Kieran Brookes with burgeoning talents Dom Barrow and Andy Saull coming into the back-row.
Ally Hogg skippers the northeasterners in the absence of Will Welch who misses out through an injury sustained in last week’s final warm-up game with Edinburgh Rugby.
Guiding the Falcons back to the big time at the first time of asking, Richards is relishing this Friday’s encounter with Bath.
“I’m excited and the players are too, but we won’t get over excited and we’ll do the job to the best of our ability,” said Richards.
“The step up from the Championship is massive and there’s no getting away from that – in the Championship you might get two or three games where you are really tested to the limit for the full 80 minutes, but in the Premiership you have to play at the same intensity week in, week out,” he added.
A squad encompassing a mixture of youth and experience has been assembled at Kingston Park, and Falcons boss Richards believes he has a side capable of handling the rigours of the Premiership.
He said: “When you look at the likes of Carlo del Fava, Mike Blair, Phil Godman, Andy Saull and Adam Powell to name but a few, we have lads who have been involved at the highest level.
“All of these players have been there, seen it and done it on the big stage. Looking at the side that we have now, we have a far more balanced team than we’ve had for a little while, and that balance of youth and experience will serve us well.
“It’s consistency throughout the year which is going to be the biggest and most difficult thing because the Aviva Premiership isn’t just about the odd game, and that’s one of the most exciting things about it.”
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 1 Franck Montanella, 2 Matt Thompson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Carlo del Fava, 5 Scott MacLeod, 6 Dom Barrow, 7 Andy Saull, 8 Ally Hogg (c)
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Gary Strain, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Adam Powell