Team news: Graham returns against Bath

Friday 25 February 2022

Gary Graham returns to Newcastle Falcons’ line-up on Saturday as they welcome Bath to Kingston Park Stadium in Gallagher Premiership action.

The 3pm kick-off sees the Falcons looking to record a home-and-away double over the West Country outfit, following their 20-13 triumph at The Rec in round two.

Graham joins a pack which sees the return of Mark Tampin at tight-head prop, with Trevor Davison sliding across to the loose-head side. Adam Radwan comes onto the left wing after being released from England’s Six Nations squad, with Tom Penny and Connor Collett co-captaining the side.

Fit-again prop Richard Palframan is on a replacements’ bench which also includes fellow South African scrum-half Louis Schreuder.

Head coach Dave Walder said: “Bath come up here after having a pretty turbulent year with everything that’s been going on down there, and we’re under no illusions about the fact they’ll be treating this as a bit of a cup final.

“They’ve certainly been putting in the performances lately, just not quite getting the results, and it’ll be a tough day. But back-to-back home games is a good place to be when you have to travel as far as we do for away matches, and it does help from a recovery point of view considering we have a six-day turnaround.”

Callum Chick misses the game following the red card he picked up during last Sunday’s 15-14 loss to Exeter, a game in which the Falcons were only sunk by a 77th minute penalty.

“There was a lot of emotion around last weekend with Mark Wilson’s retirement and the sad news about Steve Black passing away, but the boys managed to play at the right level,” said Walder.

“We were incredibly close and just couldn’t hold on in the end, but there were lots of positives we could take from a mentality point of view.

“We’ve obviously reviewed it and identified some things we could have done better in terms of converting opportunities and ensuring decisions go our way, but there were lots of good parts as well. You make life hard for yourself in this league when you play an hour with 14 men, but we fought pretty well and were just unlucky in many ways not to hold on for those last three minutes.

“We had a good performance down at Bath earlier in the season, and we’ve spoken about not having to rely on outside sources to get to the kind of emotional level that we need on a match day.

“Adding to that, we’ve talked about the little bit of detail we need to bring in certain areas, and at certain key times last weekend we maybe made a call that, if we had our time again, we’d maybe approach slightly differently. That’s as coaches, not just the players, and we take our own share of responsibility for what happens out on the field.”

Asked about Chick’s absence, Walder said: “Callum will be a miss because he’s had a great season or two, so much so that he played for England in the summer and has been training with their Six Nations squad recently.

“That shows how highly he’s rated by them, but on the same note I thought the back-row guys played well last weekend, and we’ve got to focus on the players who will be involved rather than those who won’t. We have to take it to Bath, and I believe we have a team to do that.”

Hoping to use Saturday’s game as a launch pad for a string finish to the campaign, the Premiership title and European Cup winner said: “We had a great start to the season, and from there we’ve stuttered if we’re totally honest about it.

“Covid has played a part with games being cancelled and guys not being able to play or train, and we’ve had games moved due to the weather at short notice. I can’t actually remember a season like it in terms of the conditions we’ve had, and even outside of the games having to be moved we’ve had times where we’re just not able to train due to the weather here.

“It’s been frustrating more than anything because we’ve just not had that continuity, and it’s also been hard for a lot of our guys to go out and get rugby on dual-registration. It sounds like a lot of excuses, and I know every team has these challenges, but we’re starting to get there now and there’s a lot of excitement among the group.

“Saturday is a really big game for us, and a great opportunity for the boys to get back on the winning trail.”

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Newcastle Falcons team v Bath Rugby (Saturday, 3pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Penny (co-captain), 13 George Wacokecoke, 12 Matias Orlando, 11 Adam Radwan, 10 Will Haydon-Wood, 9 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti; 1 Trevor Davison, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Josh Basham, 7 Connor Collett (co-captain), 8 Gary Graham.

Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Rob Farrar, 20 Will Montgomery, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Pete Lucock.

Bath Rugby: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Will Butt, 13 Max Clark, 12 Max Ojomoh, 11 Will Muir, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Valery Morozov, 2 Jacques du Toit, 3 D’Arcy Rae, 4 Mike Williams, 5 Ewan Richards, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Miles Reid (captain), 8 Nathan Hughes

Replacements: 16 Tom Doughty, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Joe Cokanasiga.

Referee: Adam Leal.

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