Newcastle Falcons have named their side for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership visit of Bath Rugby to Kingston Park Stadium.
Michael Young and Joel Hodgson start in the half-backs for the 12.30pm kick-off, Alex Tait coming in for Ben Stevenson on the wing while a groin injury for Matias Orlando sees the Argentina centre replaced by George Wacokecoke.
Tight-head Mark Tampin makes his first Premiership start after coming on as a replacement in all nine league games this season, Darren Barry replacing Marco Fuser in the second row.
Gary Graham returns to the side following his Six Nations exploits with Scotland – Philip van der Walt also slotting back in after being ruled out of last weekend’s trip to Sale.
Joel Matavesi keeps his place on Newcastle’s bench having scored on his Premiership debut last weekend, and is set for a family reunion with older brother Josh, the former Falcons centre who starts at centre for Bath.
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “It’s probably the first game we’ve been able to prepare properly for since Christmas, what with the snow and all the Covid cancellations, and we’re really looking forward to it.
“Last week at Sale was a bit of a non-event for us, if we’re honest. We were fresh going into the Harlequins game and managed to win even though we didn’t play with the structure we really wanted - mainly because we hadn’t been able to train for the couple of weeks leading into it.
“We then had just one proper training day going into the Sale game, and even then with ten minutes to go we were only eight points behind away to one of the best teams in the division.
“Going into Saturday’s game we feel like we’re in a much better position – we’ve trained really well and we’re optimistic about what level of performance we will be able to deliver.”
The Falcons have won their last six Premiership encounters against Bath, including a 19-12 opening-day triumph back in November.
“We surprised a lot of people that day – including Bath,” said Richards.
“There’ll be no surprises this weekend because everybody now knows what we’re about, they’ll know what to expect from us and they’re a good team. They’ve got some quality players who haven’t always been firing, but when they do fire they’re a very dangerous proposition.”
Asked where his side can finish in their first season back in the top flight, Richards replied: “People ask us about targets, but ours never changes – it’s simply to win as many games as possible.
“I don’t know how high we can finish because there are too many variables to consider, but the one thing we appreciate is that every game is there for the taking.
“We’ve been playing some good rugby this season, and we want the boys to enjoy themselves on the field.
“One of the most annoying things is we haven’t managed a four-try bonus point yet despite coming close on a number of occasions, and that really irks us. But we’ll get there in the end, and when we finally let rip I believe we’ll score a lot of points.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Bath Rugby (Saturday, 12.30pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on BT Sport Extra 3)
15 Tom Penny
14 Alex Tait
13 George Wacokecoke
12 Luther Burrell
11 Mateo Carreras
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Michael Young (captain)
1 Trevor Davison
2 George McGuigan
3 Mark Tampin
4 Greg Peterson
5 Darren Barry
6 Gary Graham
7 Philip van der Walt
8 Callum Chick
16 Charlie Maddison
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Logovi'i Mulipola
19 Sean Robinson
20 John Hardie
21 Sam Stuart
22 Brett Connon
23 Joel Matavesi
Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Juan Schoeman, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Henry Thomas, 4 Josh McNally (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Miles Reid, 7 Sam Underhill, 8 Zach Mercer.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Arthur Cordwell, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Tom Ellis, 20 Ethan Staddon, 21 Ollie Fox, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni.
Referee: Ian Tempest