Juan Pablo Socino

Socino returns for Dragons trip

Friday 27 January 2017

Newcastle Falcons have named a potent line-up for Sunday’s Anglo-Welsh Cup trip to Newport Gwent Dragons, with Juan Pablo Socino among the many stars returning to the side.

The Argentinean centre forms part of a Falcons team showing eight changes from the one which faced Ospreys last weekend, Sonatane Takulua, Vereniki Goneva, Belisario Agulla, Scott Lawson and Evan Olmstead all coming back into the fray after missing the past fortnight of European Challenge Cup action.

Joel Hodgson resumes fly-half duties with Rob Vickers returning at loose-head prop, Sean Robinson switching to the back row as Newcastle aim for a third successive victory at Rodney Parade, having won there in 2014 and 2012.

Head coach John Wells stressed the importance of the fixture in light of the return to Aviva Premiership duties on February 10, saying: “You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that having lost our first two games in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, it’s going to be pretty difficult to go through.

“That said, we are going out with all guns firing in Newport, we have selected a good team and when you look at this fixture in relation to when the Premiership resumes it is a good opportunity to get a bit of stability back. We are a team which thrives on continuity, we need to start getting that back now and this is probably that first little step.

“We have got guys involved this weekend who have not played a lot of rugby over the last few weeks for whatever reason, and this is their chance to get up and running again. That will be good for them and for us, and it is also a chance to play a good Welsh side away from home. The crowd down there will make it tough, we want to win the game regardless of the permutations and we want to come back on that bus with a victory.”

Looking for an improvement on last weekend’s 26-21 home defeat to Ospreys, Wells said: “You can say it was another learning experience, but I’m not going to hide behind that. We lost a game which was well within our grasp and we were a disappointed camp in the aftermath.

“Ospreys might not have had all of their rock stars playing but it was still a damned good side with a lot of Welsh internationals playing, and we have had to look at ourselves this week as to what went wrong. When we get into that situation again we need to know how to kill the game.”

Explaining the squad rotation which has taken place and will continue to be a feature of their build-up to the Premiership resumption in a fortnight’s time, the head coach added: “We had 43 guys out training on Wednesday, and that was fantastic. To have that number of guys at this stage of the season is the result of the good management which has taken place these past few weeks.

“In the Anglo-Welsh and European games we have had to date we have made a lot of changes and used a lot of players who don’t play week in, week out in the Premiership. That is their opportunity to develop, and we aren’t a club who can go out and cherry-pick the best players in the world.

“The important thing now is the guys who haven’t played a lot of rugby in the last couple of weeks, because we are not a team who can switch off for a fortnight and get straight back on the horse. We have to work very hard with those guys to get them back up, and so we have guys involved this week like Tane Takulua, Evan Olmstead, Niki Goneva, Juan Socino and a number of others. They have missed the European fortnight but are back with us this weekend, and it’s also great to give another opportunity to lads like Kyle Cooper, Sean Robinson and Chris Harris as they come back from injury. The thing is getting back the team togetherness for when we play Sale Sharks, and beyond.

“We have been selective in how we put the team together to face the Dragons, but because we play Sale away on a Friday night in the league we need to have all our ducks in a row for the Bath game next Saturday. The last thing we want to be doing is giving a load of guys a five-day turnaround going into Sale, and I would like to think there has been a lot of common sense applied.

“This is our way of doing it. Other people will have different ways, but everyone will choose their way based on what has happened over the past couple of weeks. Our way suits us best, and every team wants to be in the best shape for when the next block of Premiership games starts – mentally and physically. They will all be looking at ways to get that little bit of an edge or readiness.”

Having beaten Bath in their last league game and taken a pair of bonus points a week earlier against high-flying Wasps after running Saracens close, Wells said: “We have to be very careful because we did play three of the top teams in the Premiership in our last league games.

“The black and white side of me says if we could have just gone Premiership all the way through from Christmas – but I bet that another two games after the Bath game we’d be dead on our feet, mentally, physically or both. These last two games have given us an opportunity to get sorted with that, to get ourselves in the best possible place to beat Sale. I think we are in a good place, and can we now kick on?

“That’s the big question, and knowing we have league games coming up which are winnable, or loseable for that matter, if we start to get wins on the board against those sides then that upper to mid-table position starts to look achievable.

“We have been in arguably the more fortunate position of having played the top three Premiership teams either side of Christmas, doing well in those games if not always getting the result. We picked up six points in those games and went head to head with all three teams, but the reality is it took a lot out of us. We haven’t got the biggest depth of top-quality players to just roll them out every week but we managed that period very well, and the European fortnight has been a good opportunity to let those guys recharge the batteries. They’ve had that time now, so let’s get back into it.”

Looking no further than Sunday’s test at Rodney Parade, he said: “Everyone talks about Welsh flair, but I always find them to be the most pragmatic of rugby teams.

“The Welsh have generally always got a good sense of when to play and how to play. Sam Davies and Rhys Webb gave us the runaround at times last weekend, and whenever we’ve played against a Welsh team their half-backs have tended to dominate. We have made that a big focus this week, and whoever the Dragons play there we have to put as much pressure on them as possible.

“The Dragons are not too dissimilar to ourselves. They want to play a brand of rugby, they want to move the ball and they will try and play through their backs. The key is whether or not their pitch holds up, and it’s a big if. We’ve seen the pictures of it, but if it’s a dry track it could be a good game with two sides who want to play. If it becomes a quagmire it could be a messy affair, and I suspect neither team wants that.”

Newcastle Falcons team to face Newport Gwent Dragons (Sunday, 3pm, Rodney Parade)

15 Alex Tait

14 Belisario Agulla

13 Chris Harris

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 Sean Robinson

7 Will Welch (captain)

8 Mark Wilson

Replacements

16 Kyle Cooper

17 Adam Brocklebank

18 Andrew Foster

19 Mouritz Botha

20 Callum Chick

21 Michael Young

22 Craig Willis

23 Dominic Waldouck

Newport Gwent Dragons

15 Carl Meyer

14 Adam Hughes (captain)

13 Tyler Morgan

12 Adam Warren

11 Tom Prydie

10 Dorian Jones

9 Sarel Pretorius

1 Thomas Davies

2 Rhys Buckley

3 Brok Harris

4 Matthew Screech

5 Rynard Landman

6 Ollie Griffiths

7 Nic Cudd

8 Harri Keddie

Replacements

16 Thomas Rhys Thomas

17 Sam Hobbs

18 Lloyd Fairbrother

19 James Thomas

20 Robson Blake

21 Charlie Davies

22 Angus O’Brien

23 Sam Beard

Referee: John Meredith

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