Alex Tait makes his 250th appearance for Newcastle Falcons on Sunday when they travel to Leicester Tigers in Gallagher Premiership action.
The Co. Durham native scored a hat-trick on his first team debut back in January 2008 and becomes only the sixth player during the professional era to reach the 250 mark, following on from Micky Ward (286), Tom May (274), Rob Vickers (262), Matt Thompson (258) and Jamie Noon (252).
England flanker Mark Wilson returns to captain the side, centre Pete Lucock making his first Premiership start after coming on twice as a replacement during the opening fortnight of the league campaign.
Prop Jon Welsh returns to first team action having made his long-awaited comeback during Saturday’s 43-22 home victory over England Under-20s, Darren Barry and Sean Robinson forming the second-row partnership for the televised 3pm kick-off.
On the Newcastle bench there could be a first team debut for Morgan Passman, the 21-year-old winger who was in contention to set a National One try-scoring record with Darlington Mowden Park prior to suffering a serious knee injury which kept him out of the game for more than a year.
A former Yarm RFC player who progressed through the Falcons’ ACE scheme at Gosforth Academy, Passman also scored a try in last weekend’s comeback game against England Under-20s.
Director of rugby Dean Richards, keen to resume winning ways following last Friday’s narrow loss to Wasps, highlighted discipline as one area in which his side can improve their prospects.
“The last few weeks have been frustrating,” admitted the Falcons boss.
“During the season up until that point we had probably shown the best disciplinary record in the Premiership, and we’ve given away more needless penalties during the last three weeks than we have done all season.
“Our understanding of the consequences of giving away those penalties has cost us a couple of games, and that’s where our frustration lies. We’re not getting the rub of the green with certain things, I think that’s fair to say, but on the same token we’re not helping ourselves with some of the silly penalties we’re conceding.”
Suffering a double sin-binning in their last game while defending their own try-line, Richards said: “It’s not unusual that teams will give away a couple of penalties during those gridiron-style periods that we have become accustomed to, but the ones that really get you are 60 or 70 yards up the field which invite that pressure on to you in the first place.
“We’re not alone, though. Leicester’s own disciplinary record isn’t great either, and we’ve had a long chat about it as a team. We need to get it back to where we were, which we will do, and it’s just something which has unnecessarily crept into our game.”
On Tait’s appearance milestone, Richards said: “Alex is a great servant to the Falcons who always puts it in, and for any player to make 250 appearances for the same club in this day and age is a great achievement.”
Only eight games behind Tait in the appearance chart is fellow North Easterner Will Welch, who made his comeback from a calf injury last Friday only hours after the birth of his second son, Max.
“It was good to be back, although my lungs didn’t enjoy it that much!” said the flanker.
“It was a year since my last proper game, and I’m just looking forward to getting back out there again.”
Facing a Leicester side for whom his grandfather Rex Skelton played more than a century of games, he added: “They have gone back to their old traditional ways, from what I’ve seen.
“They have a strong set-piece, they love a line-out maul and they’re a big set of lads. Their half-backs control a lot of the play, and whenever you go down to Welford Road the set-piece battle is always massive.”
Determined to overcome his side’s mid-season blip, Welch said: “There’s still plenty for us to play for, and we’re right in the mixer around that mid-table area.
“If we can go on a run and string together a few results then things begin to look a lot different, but the way you do that is just the boring old answer of taking one game at a time and concentrating on the next challenge, which for us is Leicester on Sunday.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Leicester Tigers (Sunday, 3pm, Mattioli Woods Welford Road, live on BT Sport 1)
15 Alex Tait
14 George Wacokecoke
13 Pete Lucock
12 Luther Burrell
11 Ben Stevenson
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Louis Schreuder
1 Adam Brocklebank
2 Jamie Blamire
3 Jon Welsh
4 Darren Barry
5 Sean Robinson
6 Will Welch
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Callum Chick
16 George McGuigan
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Mark Tampin
19 Connor Collett
20 Philip van der Walt
21 Sam Stuart
22 Brett Connon
23 Morgan Passman
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Dan Kelly, 11 Kini Murimurivalu, 10 George Ford, 9 Richard Wigglesworth; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Calum Green, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Jasper Wiese.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Cameron Henderson, 20 George Martin, 21 Jack Van Poortvliet, 22 Johnny McPhillips, 23 Guy Porter.
Referee: Karl Dickson.