Newcastle Falcons have named their side for Wednesday’s Premiership Rugby Cup trip to Northampton Saints.
Scrum-half James Blackett (pictured, 20) makes his first competitive start, while back-rowers Marcus Tiffen and Matt Deehan (both 19) earn their debuts in the 7.45pm kick-off, with the Falcons looking to secure semi-final qualification from their final group game.
Centre Pete Lucock captains the team, with recent England Under-20s cap Iwan Stephens starting on the wing after scoring three tries in three games for the Falcons this season.
Prop-forward Conrad Cade makes his first senior start – Newcastle having won two of their three games in the competition so far this season, beating Wasps (34-27), taking a losing bonus point at Sale Sharks (25-20) and defeating Leicester Tigers (36-28).
Hooker Charlie Maddison shifts to the back-row as the Falcons negotiate a barrage of injuries in that department, finding themselves in a run of three away games in the space of just eight days.
On the bench there could be first-team debuts for England Under-20s pair Ollie Fletcher (hooker) and Louie Johnson (fly-half), who have both just competed in the recent Six Nations.
Replacement scrum-half Ben Douglas could follow in the footsteps of his father Steve, who is a former Newcastle Gosforth scrum-half, with England Under-18s international Ben currently a pupil on the Falcons’ ACE programme at Gosforth Academy.
Two guest players from Newcastle University are also in line for their debuts should they come on from the bench, in the form of lock Arinze Okemuo and back-rower George Bennett-Teare.
Academy manager and first team skills coach Mark Laycock and academy head coach James Ponton will take charge of the side for the game, Laycock saying: “It’s a big opportunity for a lot of players, but at the same time we’re still in contention to push forward for the knock-out stages.
“We want to chase some silverware for the club, that’s the ultimate aim and we’re preparing with that very much in mind.
“It’s tough for all clubs in this round because they’re fitting in a midweek cup game when there are Premiership matches either side of it, and everyone’s being stretched to the max as a result. You just have to get on with it, though, and there’s no point complaining about the schedule.
“Quite a few of these boys played last week against Leicester in the Premiership Rugby Cup, and they’re looking to put themselves forward for selection for the first team for the run-in to the season. We’ve also a got a lot of younger lads coming in who we’re excited to see in this environment, and it will be great to see them in a Falcons jersey after playing international age-grade rugby or appearing on dual-registration over the last few months.”
Delighted by the academy emphasis being shown this season, Laycock said: “It’s been the case all year that the club have given first-team opportunities to our homegrown lads, and Dean Richards has made a point of coming out and saying that in the press.
“For me as an academy manager that’s obviously pleasing to hear, and consistently over the course of the season we’ve been dipping lads in and giving them their chance to show what they can do. Guys like Freddie Lockwood and Will Haydon-Wood have taken their chances really well over the last month or two, and hopefully Wednesday’s game can be the start of that journey for a few other lads as well.
“We’ve got a couple of guest players as a result of our strong link with Newcastle University through our associate academy pathway, and that gives us the ability to bring some of those boys in to give them a go. Arinze Okemuo and George Bennett-Teare have both been consistently stand-out performers at university level, this will be a good test for them and I’m confident they can step up.”
Anticipating an entertaining game, he added: “You know what’s in the DNA of any Northampton Saints team, almost regardless of what personnel they put out onto the field.
“Their form in the last few weeks has been devastating, they had a great win down at London Irish on the weekend and we know where their threats are. We’ve done our homework on them as we would do for any game, and that includes spotting some places where we believe there are opportunities for us.
“I’d imagine it will be a fairly expansive and exciting game of rugby, which is what you always get at Northampton, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Wednesday’s game is not being televised nor live-streamed, but there is live radio commentary on BBC Newcastle 95.4fm, DAB and online, or follow the club’s twitter updates on @falconsrugby.
Newcastle Falcons team v Northampton Saints (Wednesday, 7.45pm, Cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens)
15 Alex Tait, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Max Wright, 12 Pete Lucock (captain), 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 James Blackett; 1 Conrad Cade, 2 Robbie Smith, 3 Richard Palframan, 4 George Merrick, 5 Rob Farrar, 6 Charlie Maddison, 7 Marcus Tiffen, 8 Matt Deehan.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Fletcher, 17 Kyle Cooper, 18 Phil Brantingham, 19 Arinze Okemuo, 20 George Bennett-Teare, 21 Ben Douglas, 22 Louie Johnson, 23 Zach Kerr.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Hendy, 14 Josh Gillespie, 13 Tom Litchfield, 12 Joel Matavesi, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 James Grayson (captain), 9 Connor Tupai; 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 2 James Fish, 3 Ed Prowse, 4 Luke Frost, 5 Tom Lockett, 6 Duane RatuVilai Willemsen, 7 JJ Tonks, 8 Geordie Irvine.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Leroy O'Neil, 18 Karl Garside, 19 Callum Burns, 20 George Patten, 21 Jake Garside, 22 Ethan Grayson, 23 Frankie Sleightholme.
Referee: Jack Makepeace.
GUEST PLAYER PROFILES
George Bennett-Teare: Back row, 22/9/2000, 194cm, 104kg.
George plays for Newcastle University and Beverley RFC. He has played county rugby for Yorkshire Under-20s and 17s, and is a former member of Yorkshire Carnegie's academy.
Ben Douglas: Scrum-half, 16/1/2004, 177cm, 75kg.
Ben is a member of the Falcons' Under-18s squad, who is part of the club's ACE programme at Gosforth Academy and also plays for Novocastrians RFC. Ben is a current member of the England Under-18s team, whose father Steve played scrum-half for Newcastle Gosforth, as the Falcons were previously known.
Arinze Okemuo: Lock, 22/9/2000, 194cm, 103kg.
Arinze is a Newcastle University player who has previously represented Worcester Warriors' academy and Bournville RFC.