Simon Hammersley makes his 100th appearance for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday when they travel to take on Wasps in Gallagher Premiership action.
The 25-year-old full-back is the top ball-carrier in this season’s Premiership and forms part of a team showing just one change from the one which defeated Worcester Warriors last weekend, a minor calf injury ruling out Scotland centre Chris Harris.
Josh Matavesi comes in at inside centre, Johnny Williams pushing out one place in a squad which sees Canadian international Evan Olmstead on the bench after re-joining the Falcons from Auckland.
Defence coach John Wells is relishing the opportunity for the Falcons to claim their first ever league victory at the Ricoh Arena, Newcastle last week becoming only the sixth team across 90 games this season not to concede a single try in a Premiership match after defeating Worcester 17-6.
“Any side that aspires to win games and win championships, you have to have your defence sorted,” said Wells.
“Last weekend we knew what the circumstances were, the lads dealt with that really well and we were well organised both mentally and physically. That gave a good defensive system the chance to operate well, and that was the key.”
The Falcons’ triumph over Worcester reduced the gap between themselves and the Warriors to five points with seven games remaining, Wells saying: “It’s probably too early to tell in all honesty whether this is the start of our resurgence but we’re pleased to have come through a big test, because we knew we were in a very difficult place had we lost that game.
“There was a lot of pressure on the players and the club in general, we had to get a result and we’d have settled for that outcome before the game. Yes, people can legitimately point to the fact we didn’t get a bonus point, but we’re moving in the right direction and bringing a really positive mind-set into Saturday’s game down at Wasps.”
Insisting application rather than system change was at the heart of the improvement, Wells explained: “In terms how the team was set up to defend last weekend, it wasn’t any different to the week before down at Exeter.
“Worcester have scored a lot of tries this season, and it’s not very often in Premiership rugby that one team manages to nil the other in terms of tries conceded. We were delighted to do that last weekend, but with all respect we’ve had plenty of other games this season where it hasn’t worked like that.
“My main point is that we were set up just as well the week before as we were last week, but the big difference was the mental and physical approach of the players.
“What was really pleasing was the enthusiasm and energy that the lads showed, being on the front foot all the time and constantly getting into opposition faces. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you can make life difficult for them by showing that urgency, and it means they can’t settle. We were similar in attack, in fairness. We were on top of them, we made them have to defend well against us, and on the occasions when they weren’t able to defend well we either got tries or line-breaks as a consequence.”
Turning attention to Saturday’s assignment in Coventry, he added: “The challenge this weekend is that we’re playing against a different style of attack which will see us being challenged in different ways, and it’s up to us to aspire to the same levels we attained last Sunday.
“Wasps have been hit pretty hard by international call-ups and that will obviously have an impact on how they are able to perform, but they’ve got a lot of strength in depth and can still put out a quality side.
“We’ve not got much out of the league games we’ve played previously at the Ricoh Arena, we need to be on our game and I keep stressing the importance of the mental approach. If we’re on our game I’m pretty sure we can stop this Wasps team, but if we’re just a little bit off it’ll be a tough day.
“You could see our players’ body language when they came off the field last weekend was really positive, and while we’ve still got plenty of work left to do we’re not in the massive hole we would have been in had we lost against Worcester.
“The confidence we got from knowing that we can win games, and from closing that gap, puts us in a really good place to go to Coventry and gain another victory.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Saturday, 2pm, Ricoh Arena)
15 Simon Hammersley
14 Zach Kibirige
13 Johnny Williams
12 Josh Matavesi
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Toby Flood
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Sam Lockwood
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Calum Green
5 Andrew Davidson
6 Will Welch (captain)
7 Gary Graham
8 Callum Chick
16 Kyle Cooper
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 David Wilson
19 Evan Olmstead
20 Nemani Nagusa
21 Sam Stuart
22 Brett Connon
23 Pedro Bettencourt