Will Haydon-Wood starts at fly-half on Saturday as Newcastle Falcons try to complete a Gallagher Premiership home-and-away double over Bristol Bears.
The 2pm kick-off at Ashton Gate sees the 21-year-old making his 12th senior appearance, with Newcastle looking to repeat the 13-5 victory they enjoyed over Bristol in October.
Nathan Earle replaces the injured Mateo Carreras on the left wing, while Gary Graham comes in on the blindside flank.
Newcastle go into the game one place and three points ahead of the Bears in the Gallagher Premiership standings, with head coach Dave Walder nonetheless wary of a resurgent Bristol side who have hit a mid-season purple patch.
“I really enjoy watching Bristol – they play a great style of rugby and they challenge you across the pitch,” said Walder.
“They’ve thrown a lot of money at it to build their team and their brand, and the level of player they have been able to sign has gone up as a result. In terms of a club they’re where everyone kind of aims to be, though not necessarily by league position at the moment, as I’m sure they’d admit themselves.
“I like the way they play the game with a smile on their face, it looks like a good club from the outside but hopefully on Saturday there won’t be too many smiles from them after the final whistle.”
Beaten on their last visit to Ashton Gate on New Year’s day in 2021, Walder recalled: “We pushed them close down there last season, and felt we let ourselves down a bit in the set-piece.
“We were scrummaging well but we had a few close-range scrums which we didn’t convert into tries, whether through some frustrating refereeing decisions or just our own inability to manage those situations. We also had some driving line-outs which we didn’t convert, and despite being well in the game we were unhappy not to have taken our chances.
“That was a disappointing day because we felt the win was there for us, but then on the same token we played Bristol up at our place in October and managed to beat them.
“We played pretty well in the home game, even if on reflection we missed quite a few opportunities. Maybe we caught them cold a little bit because they hadn’t had a great start to the season, but we began the game well and put them under a lot of pressure.
“I wouldn’t say we saw the game out comfortably, because they’ve got a lot of stars within their squad, but it was still a really pleasing result.”
In terms of where the Bears are now, the former England fly-half added: “They’ve picked up recently, and confidence seems to be a big thing for them.
“They’ve always played a pretty open style of rugby, moving the ball very well with a high degree of skill. At the start of the season when confidence was low they were either nor throwing those offloads, or they weren’t quite sticking, but they seem to have got their mojo back a bit.
“Some of the tries they’re scoring are great to watch from a rugby point of view, but hopefully we’re able to pin them back and get some turnover ball from those offloads they love to throw. I think confidence has been the main difference, because they’ve not changed too much about what they do.
“It’s maybe got a little bit lost because of the defeats we’ve had over the past few weeks, but we’re actually still above Bristol in the league table.
“We’ve spoken about that as a group during the week, and you can’t lose sight of it. Obviously we’ve had some disappointing recent results in the Premiership which we’re keen to bounce back from, and if we do that on Saturday then they’ll still be below us.”
Newcastle Falcons team v Bristol Bears (Saturday, 2pm, Ashton Gate)
15 Mike Brown, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Will Haydon-Wood, 9 Sam Stuart; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Mark Tampin, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 Will Welch (captain), 8 Callum Chick.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Smith, 17 Conrad Cade, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Josh Basham, 20 Connor Collett, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Tom Penny.
Bristol Bears: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Siva Naulago, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Tom Whiteley, 9 Andy Uren; 1 Jake Woolmore, 2 Bryan Byrne, 3 Max Lahiff, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Joe Joyce (captain), 6 Chris Vui, 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Fitz Harding.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Tiff Eden, 22 Antoine Frisch, 23 Alapati Leiua.
Referee: Matthew Carley.