Team news: Matavesi at fly-half for Wasps visit

Friday 4 May 2018

Josh Matavesi moves to fly-half as Newcastle Falcons hosts Wasps in Saturday’s battle for third place in the Aviva Premiership table at a sold-out Kingston Park Stadium.

The Fijian international has been a mainstay of the Falcons midfield this season but moves into the No 10 shirt for the final game of the regular season following the knee injury sustained by Joel Hodgson’s during last Friday’s 25-23 triumph at Leicester Tigers.

Newcastle go into the game with a Premiership semi-final spot and European Champions Cup Rugby already secured, but the battle for third remains very much alive against a Wasps side who currently occupy that position.

Whoever finishes third in the table will travel to Saracens in the Premiership semi-finals on Saturday May 19, with the fourth-placed side facing a trip to Exeter Chiefs the same day. Any Newcastle Falcons win apart from a 4-2 points victory (ie Newcastle win without a try bonus point, and Wasps get two bonus points) would secure third place.

Newcastle make eight changes in total with last week’s Welford Road victory taking a heavy toll on the injury front, Vereniki Goneva, Scott Wilson, Sinoti Sinoti, Michael Young and Sean Robinson all missing out after picking up knocks. Alex Tait and Zach Kibirige come in on the wings, Juan Pablo Socino slotting in at inside centre while last week’s match-winner Sonatane Takulua comes into the No 9 shirt.

Evan Olmstead and Will Witty join the starting XV to form the second-row partnership, Rob Vickers replacing Sam Lockwood at loose-head in what will be the last ever home game for the long-serving prop. No 8 Ally Hogg will also start for the final time at Kingston Park Stadium, keeping his place in the same back row which started at Leicester, where he scored the 80th-minute leveller.

The only other change to the team sees Trevor Davison packing down at tight-head, Newcastle’s bench including lock-forward Glen Young, who will be looking to add his two Premiership appearances, while prop David Wilson is in line for his first league outing of the season after overcoming a calf injury.

Director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Saturday is going to be a huge occasion here with it being a 10,100 sell-out, we’ve got long-serving players making their last home appearances and we’re playing for third place in the Premiership.

“It’s a game which doesn’t take much selling because the script is all there, the boys are going well and a team like Wasps will also play a brand of rugby that people enjoy watching. Whichever way you look at it we should see some good stuff, and it will be an interesting 80 minutes.

“When Wasps have their full back line playing it’s probably the best in the Aviva Premiership, or certainly the most exciting. When those guys are on song they take some taming, but it’s a case of whether they can keep it up for 80 minutes and also maybe being without one or two of their regular starters this week. When they field their top boys they’re very difficult to beat, but then people have also said the same about us at times this year.”

That has certainly been the case at Kingston Park Stadium this season, where the Falcons are unbeaten in all competitions in five and a half months, but it was their away form which was to the fore at Leicester last Friday when they ended a 20-year wait for a win at Welford Road.

“As emotional as last Friday at Leicester was, the thing which has got us to where we are is the fact we very quickly move on to the next game,” said Richards.

“We haven’t dwelled too much on what happened last week apart from trying to improve our set-piece, and you have to look forward when you have two and hopefully three massive games coming up. Yeah, there was a certain amount of emotion immediately after the game last Friday, but it was put to one side fairly swiftly.”

Referencing their last-minute winner and the comeback which got them to within striking distance, the Falcons boss added: “We are a team who just refuse to be beaten, even in tight games where certain facets of our game might not be functioning how we want them to be.

“The good thing at Leicester was that we stuck to script more so than we had done the week before at Gloucester, and that gave us a chance going into the closing stages because we were still within a score or two. The boys went out and delivered a really disciplined performance in terms of sticking to the game plan we had set in place, and if you have that as a basic framework you’re in a much better position to then add on all the other bits and pieces.”

Assessing the injury situation, Richards said: “We’ll look after a few of the boys who have picked up injuries and knocks, and see how they are going into the semi-final in a fortnight’s time. Some of them have more of a chance than others but we have a good squad in place, and we will deal with that like we always do.”

Speaking in the week that it was announced he had signed a new three-year deal to remain in charge of Newcastle, the former England and Lions No 8 said: “To be honest, it had been sorted out some time ago with our chairman Semore Kurdi. It’s just something personal to me and I’m never one to shout about these things. To me it’s nothing near as exciting as a player contract being signed and I don’t see it as being that important, but of course I’m delighted to be staying here.

“It’s not a surprise that the top four clubs in the Premiership, maybe with the exception of Sale who are also going really well this season, are the clubs who have the longest-serving directors of rugby. Continuity is so important in sport, and when you look at our playing squad I think the continuity in that department has also been a big contributor in our improvement.”

Tickets for the game are now sold out. Make sure you never miss a moment in season 2018/19 and book your season ticket membership. Granting entry to 11 Gallagher Premiership Rugby home games, three European Champions Cup pool games and all domestic cup home group games, season tickets offer the best and most convenient way to follow the Falcons.

Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Saturday, 4pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on BT Sport)

15 Simon Hammersley

14 Alex Tait

13 Chris Harris

12 Juan Pablo Socino

11 Zach Kibirige

10 Josh Matavesi

9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers

2 Scott Lawson

3 Trevor Davison

4 Evan Olmstead

5 Will Witty

6 Mark Wilson (captain)

7 Gary Graham

8 Ally Hogg

Replacements

16 Santiago Socino

17 Sam Lockwood

18 David Wilson

19 Glen Young

20 Nili Latu

21 Sam Stuart

22 Craig Willis

23 Tom Penny

Wasps

15 Willie Le Roux

14 Josh Bassett

13 Gaby Lovobalavu

12 Kyle Eastmond

11 Elliot Daly

10 Danny Cipriani

9 Joe Simpson

1 Ben Harris

2 Tom Cruse

3 Marty Moore

4 Joe Launchbury (captain)

5 Kearnan Myall

6 James Haskell

7 Thomas Young

8 Jack Willis

Replacements

16 Tommy Taylor

17 Matt Mullan

18 Jake Cooper-Woolley

19 Will Rowlands

20 Guy Thompson

21 Dan Robson

22 Jimmy Gopperth

23 Juan De Jongh

Referee: Ian Tempest

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