Team news: Dunbar makes quickfire debut at Sale

Friday 1 February 2019

Scotland centre Alex Dunbar makes his Newcastle Falcons debut less than a week after joining the club, starting in Sunday’s Premiership Rugby Cup trip to Sale Sharks.

A bonus-point win by nine or more points would secure safe passage through to next weekend’s semi-finals as group winners, with a bonus-point win by 37 or more points adding home advantage.

Qualification as a best-placed runner-up could also be achieved depending on the outcome of the Worcester Warriors v Wasps and Bath v Gloucester games, Toby Flood captaining a Newcastle side showing eight changes from the one which started the Heineken Champions Cup clash against Toulon.

Zach Kibirige comes in on the right wing after scoring a hat-trick in the opening round against Exeter Chiefs, Michael Young starting at scrum-half. Sami Mavinga and Santiago Socino are added to the front row, Andrew Davidson starting at lock while John Hardie and Callum Chick slot into the back row.

Mark Wilson, Chris Harris and Gary Graham are absent due to Six Nations commitments, head coach Dave Walder keen to claim the club’s first top-flight silverware since 2004 when he steered the Falcons to a Twickenham cup final victory over Sunday’s opponents.

He said: “We know what we want to do at Sale on Sunday, we know where we need to be better in comparison to our previous games and we also know the positive things we’ve been doing which we can build on. We’ve had an extra training day this week so the lads have more clarity on certain things, and we’re one game away from being in a semi-final.

“We were disappointed not to beat Toulon in our last outing because we felt we had enough opportunities to win that game, and we’re viewing the six-week gap between Gallagher Premiership matches as a bit of a mini pre-season.

“Yes, we wanted to do well in Europe and we’re disappointed not to have progressed in that competition, but the league is our bread and butter and that’s what we’re judged on. The Premiership Rugby Cup is really useful preparation for the resumption of that, and it’s ideal to have a competitive game against a good Sale Sharks side to get everyone’s minds sharpened again.”

Recharged after a week with no game due to the new format of the Premiership Rugby Cup, Walder explained: “It was nice to go away for a few days and freshen up going into the back half of the campaign, and when the lads got back in on Monday there was almost a start of pre-season feeling with the excitement levels and all the chat flying around. That has been really good, we’ve carried that enthusiasm into our week’s training and it seems to have rejuvenated the guys.

“Obviously on the coaching side a fair chunk of that time off has been spent working hard on how we are going to improve our results, and that has been really useful as well as managing to enjoy a bit more family time.”

Well aware of the robust opposition which will await their arrival at the AJ Bell Stadium, the former England fly-half added: “Sale isn’t an easy place to go to but I like them as a club, I’ve known Pete Anglesea and Steve Diamond on their coaching team for a lot of years and they’re good guys.

“You know exactly what you’re going to get over there – abrasive, hard-nosed guys who are representative of their coaches – and it’s a case of can we deal with their threats in a good enough way to present the opportunities which I think will be there for us. If we do that, are we then clinical enough to take them, and that’s the key.

“Sale put a huge emphasis on the breakdown, so that will be a big area. They’re very aggressive there, whichever personnel they go with, and they beat Saracens a month or so ago by hammering them at the breakdown.

“We know what they’re going to do, it’s more a case can we be smart about how we do our own stuff, and can we move the play a bit so we don’t give them easy targets to get on the ball?

“If we can get quick ball when they’re trying to get numbers in at the breakdown then there should be space around the field for us, but that’s obviously not an easy task against a good side like Sale.”

Newcastle Falcons team to face Sale Sharks (Sunday, 3pm, AJ Bell Stadium)

15 Tom Arscott

14 Zach Kibirige

13 Alex Dunbar

12 Josh Matavesi

11 Sinoti Sinoti

10 Toby Flood (captain)

9 Michael Young

1 Sami Mavinga

2 Santiago Socino

3 Trevor Davison

4 Andrew Davidson

5 Glen Young

6 Ryan Burrows

7 John Hardie

8 Callum Chick


16 Jamie Blamire

17 Adam Brocklebank

18 David Wilson

19 Tevita Cavubati

20 Simon Uzokwe

21 Sam Stuart

22 Brett Connon

23 Vereniki Goneva

Sale Sharks

15 Luke James

14 Arron Reed

13 Johnny Leota

12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg

11 Paolo Odogwu

10 Kieran Wilkinson

9 Will Cliff

1 Tom Bristow

2 Curtis Langdon

3 Joe Jones

4 Bryn Evans

5 Andrei Ostrikov

6 Cameron Neild

7 Ben Curry (captain)

8 Sam Moore


16 Rob Webber

17 Valery Morozov

18 Alexandru Tarus

19 Matt Postlethwaite

20 Josh Beaumont

21 Matt Sturgess

22 Tom Roebuck

23 Denny Solomona

Referee: Hamish Smales

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