Opeti Fonua

Team news: One change for Bristol trip

Friday 5 May 2017

Newcastle Falcons have made just one change to their line-up for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership climax at Bristol, Opeti Fonua coming into the side at No 8.

The Tongan international replaces Callum Chick in the only change from the side which defeated Worcester Warriors in their last outing, Newcastle travelling to Ashton Gate in search of European Champions Cup rugby.

To have any chance of qualifying for Europe’s top-tier competition the Falcons need to finish seventh in the Aviva Premiership, which means winning in Bristol and hoping that results in Gloucester and Northampton go their way.

Newcastle would then need Gloucester to lose next weekend’s European Challenge Cup final to secure themselves a play-off semi-final spot, but Falcons boss Dean Richards is not allowing his thoughts to be clouded by the plethora of permutations.

The director of rugby said: “First and foremost we’ve got to do our own job - win at Bristol and win well. We can get into that seventh spot if things go our way, but all we’re concentrating on is winning our own game at Bristol.

“From a playing perspective the boys have just not got to worry about anything else. As a coaching team we’ll have a little bit of an eye on what’s going on in the other games, but ultimately it’s about beating Bristol. Things like bonus points aren’t relevant if we don’t win the game, and although Bristol have already finished bottom of the Premiership they’re still not a bad side. They’ve got some great attacking power on paper and we know it will be a difficult game, so we’re certainly not taking them lightly.”

Sympathetic to Bristol’s plight, Richards said: “It’s difficult coming up from the Championship, as we found ourselves a few seasons back. We only won three league games that year but fought tooth-and-nail to stay up via bonus points, and that was really important in terms to getting to where we are now.

“Bristol are spending big money in putting together a squad which should bounce straight back up, and they’ll be really strong favourites to win next season’s Championship.

“In terms of Saturday they’ll have nothing whatsoever to lose and they will want to finish on a high – or as much of a high as you can get having just been relegated. You could argue that might help them, but you sometimes also see teams becoming a bit fragile in that situation. All we’ll be doing is sticking to our guns, being very single-minded about what we’re down there to do and not deviate from that. Every opportunity we get to keep the scoreboard ticking over, we need to take.”

Breaking a pattern of three successive second-bottom finishes, the Falcons are already assured of their best league placing in seven seasons, and could achieve a 15-year high with victory in the West Country.

“It has been a little frustrating in the sense we have dropped off a bit in the second half of the season, although in fairness some of those were against what you might class as the more difficult sides in the division, like Exeter and Leicester away,” said Richards.

“In many respects I’m delighted with where we are, but also in the knowledge we can still do better. If we finish seventh I’d be even happier.

“Where we end up will ultimately be a fair reflection of how we have performed this season. You have your chances and you’ve got to take them. We haven’t always taken every opportunity that has been afforded to us, although the same could be levelled at a lot of clubs in that middle area. We’ve got to kick on from that and become a little bit more accurate, and if we do that we’ll climb the league table just a little more.”

Newcastle Falcons team to face Bristol (Saturday, 4pm, Ashton Gate)

15 Marcus Watson

14 Vereniki Goneva

13 Chris Harris

12 Juan Pablo Socino

11 Sinoti Sinoti

10 Joel Hodgson

9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers

2 Scott Lawson

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Sean Robinson

6 Mark Wilson

7 Will Welch (captain)

8 Opeti Fonua

Replacements

16 Kyle Cooper

17 Ben Harris

18 Scott Wilson

19 Will Witty

20 Callum Chick

21 Sam Egerton

22 Craig Willis

23 Alex Tait

Bristol Rugby

15 Jason Woodward

14 Ryan Edwards

13 Will Hurrell

12 Gavin Henson

11 Jack Tovey

10 Billy Searle

9 Alby Mathewson

1 Jack O’Connell

2 Marc Jones (captain)

3 Gaston Cortes

4 James Phillips

5 Mark Sorenson

6 Sam Jeffries

7 Olly Robinson

8 Mitch Eadie

Replacements

16 Max Crumpton

17 Ollie Dawe

18 Jamal Ford-Robinson

19 Ben Glynn

20 Nick Fenton-Wells

21 Andy Uren

22 Tusi Pisi

23 Siale Piutau

Referee: Luke Pearce.

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