Club captain Will Welch

Skipper back to face Bath on Friday

Thursday 5 January 2017

Newcastle Falcons have made three changes for Friday’s Aviva Premiership visit of Bath Rugby (7.45pm), fit-again flanker Will Welch returning to the captain the side after making his comeback from the bench last week against Wasps following a fractured cheekbone.

He replaces Ally Hogg in a reshuffled back row, the Scot having picked up an injury in last Friday’s 34-30 home loss to the league leaders.

Canadian international Evan Olmstead returns from injury to take up a spot in the second row, while the hamstring injury suffered by Marcus Watson means Belisario Agulla shifts to the wing in a move which sees Dominic Waldouck come in at outside centre.

On the bench there could be a first appearance of the season for Sean Robinson after returning to fitness, director of rugby Dean Richards keen for his side to begin the new year on a positive note after an encouraging return in 2016.

Richards said: “The boys are enjoying their rugby and playing a good brand. We didn’t quite get the tries we wanted down at Saracens on Christmas Eve but we scored four last weekend against a good Wasps side, and we’re going out there to give it a real go.

“It’s a very happy camp at the moment. To be fair, it always has been, but during the past two or three years the boys have been looking down or over their shoulders at what has been happening at the bottom of the table. I’ve personally never had that fear that we would finish bottom, but it’s how far up the ladder we finish.

“To finish 11th was disappointing from my perspective, so this year we are starting to make headway up the league. We’ll see where we end up, and there has never been a worry there from me. The boys are very much enjoying their rugby and it is starting to come together. They go out there to score tries, which they are starting to do now. In the first five or six league games this season we struggled a little bit to get into the groove, but we are there now.”

Expecting a good test against a Bath side who were beaten at Kingston Park this time last year, Richards admitted his team are keen to make amends for the heavy defeat they suffered at the Rec earlier this season.

“You look at the Bath away game and we were harshly done by a yellow card to Niki Goneva, which I thought was a really poor decision on the day,” said the director of rugby.

“As a consequence we leaked three or four tries at the end of the first half, and that it killed the game in the sense we were so far behind we were chasing it and leaving ourselves open. We leaked a few more in trying to find a try-scoring bonus point, and we were really disappointed by that game. Yeah, we have got a point to prove, but it is all about ourselves and our ability to produce the game we want to produce.

“That game is behind us now, and it’s not about retribution. It wasn’t Bath who sent Niki Goneva to the sin-bin, it was someone else, and we have just got to go about our game in making sure we are on top of it. If we are we will come away with the result.

“Bath are an incredibly dangerous team and you can’t take your foot off the gas against them. They found it difficult last week against Exeter going down to 14 men, and as much as they will be upset by that defeat they will understand there is a reason and a rationale behind it. They will obviously want to come up here and turn it round, but we also have a point to prove after not getting the result we wanted against Wasps last week.”

Commenting on the 34-30 defeat which drew a season-high crowd of 8,730, Richards said: “There was a real buzz here last week, and I have long said there is no better place than Kingston Park on a big match night. It was outstanding in terms of atmosphere, it was just a shame we didn’t get the result we wanted.

“We have sat down and talked about it afterwards and there is a sense of real frustration. We put the effort in, had a huge amount of opportunities and didn’t take all of them. Wasps had probably as many opportunities, and we have just got to be more clinical in what we do. We gifted them two or three soft tries, although it’s only fair to say the tries we did score were outstanding.

“To be fair I think we started off relatively slowly in attack this season, and as a consequence didn’t get as many results as we wanted. Worcester away was one where we had so much possession and so many line-breaks but didn’t finish them off, and Leicester at home we should also have had a result. They are the frustrating ones where you say we should have taken a bit more from them, but our attack has cranked up since then and we have a better understanding of how we want to play. There are still bit we can add to that and we can show more in defence, but on the attack side of things we are more comfortable with where we are going.

“We still need the accuracy and are working hard on it. Sometimes it is accuracy across the board, whereas earlier in the season it was a lot of accuracy missing from one main area in terms of our attack. We are now beginning to get ourselves together there, but if we want to take it up one more gear we have to be far more accurate again. From a defence point of view it is more momentary lapses of concentration at certain points, and we can’t afford to do that.”

Happier with his squad depth and hopeful that a stable summer can see even more progression over the longer term, he added: “In terms of the quality of the players, we have a stronger squad this year.

“Sometimes it takes people time to get into the groove and to understand how we want to play, and each year we are trying to reduce the number of personnel changes we have to the squad so you get that continuity from one season to the next. We are now getting to that stage where there will be very few changes this year into next, hopefully, and that makes a big difference in terms of understanding how we want to attack and defend.”

Tickets for Friday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060, clicking here or from the stadium in person.

Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

15 Alex Tait

14 Belisario Agulla

13 Dominic Waldouck

12 Juan Pablo Socino

11 Vereniki Goneva

10 Joel Hodgson

9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers

2 Scott Lawson

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Evan Olmstead

6 Mark Wilson

7 Will Welch (captain)

8 Opeti Fonua

Replacements

16 Ben Sowrey

17 Ben Harris

18 Paddy Ryan

19 Will Witty

20 Sean Robinson

21 Michael Young

22 Craig Willis

23 Fred Burdon

Bath Rugby

15 Anthony Watson

14 Semesa Rokoduguni

13 Jonathan Joseph

12 Ben Tapuai

11 Aled Brew

10 George Ford (co-captain)

9 Darren Allinson

1 Nathan Catt

2 Tom Dunn

3 Max Lahiff

4 Elliott Stooke

5 Luke Charteris

6 Tom Ellis

7 Francois Louw

8 Zach Mercer

Replacements

16 Jack Walker

17 Beno Obano

18 Shaun Knight

19 Matt Garvey (co-captain)

20 Paul Grant

21 Chris Cook

22 Rhys Priestland

23 Robbie Fruean

Referee: Greg Garner.

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