Argentina centre Matias Orlando lines up for his Newcastle Falcons debut on Friday when they make the Gallagher Premiership trip to Bristol Bears.
The 47-times-capped Pumas star has been named at inside centre for the Ashton Gate clash, No 8 Philip van der Walt also making his Premiership debut in a game which has been moved to a 3pm kick-off.
Mark Wilson captains the side having made a successful return from injury in Newcastle’s 26-17 away victory over Castres - Tom Arscott starting at full-back after scoring in the European Challenge Cup triumph.
Sam Stuart, who scored in both of the Falcons’ recent European encounters, starts at scrum-half, with Toby Flood moving to fly-half.
George Wacokecoke comes in at outside centre for a Falcons side who have won all three of their Gallagher Premiership games this season, the Kingston Park outfit having also been awarded a further four points from their cancelled Boxing Day match against Leicester Tigers.
Jamie Blamire starts at hooker having earned man-of-the-match honours against Cardiff Blues during the recent European window, while Newcastle’s bench could see a Premiership debut for hooker Charlie Maddison.
Going into the New Year’s Day encounter placed second in the table against a Bristol side just one spot below them, head coach Dave Walder said: “We’re very happy with how we’ve started.
“There was a lot of uncertainty with stepping up a division after such a long break without a game, but we’ve got a lot of momentum. We probably caught Bath on the hop a little bit in our first game, Sale at home wasn’t a great watch but we just about got there, and then we won at Wasps the week after.
“It was disappointing to have the Boxing Day home game against Leicester cancelled because everyone was looking forward to it, but that’s just the world we’re living in at the moment. We were confident going into Boxing Day but it wasn’t to be, and the main thing is you just hope that everyone’s OK down at Leicester.”
Asked about the disruption to games and training caused by the global pandemic, Walder said: “We don’t want to miss any games having gone more than eight months without a fixture, and all you can do is just stick to the protocols.
“Testing is done early in the week so you have an idea of who is or isn’t available when it comes to your main training days, and it’s just a case of doing your best to manage things from there.
“Away games are a bit different with travelling on two buses, the lads having single rooms at the hotel and not being able to nip out for coffees or whatever during their down time, but it’s one of those things and you just have to get on with it.
“Our training days are longer because we have to have smaller groups in the gym, and everything has to be cleaned down between groups. During the early part of the week you’re basically in stage one in terms of what you can and can’t do in training until you get the test results, but everyone’s adapting.
“No team wants to have games called off, and it’s just a case of following all the protocols to give yourself the best possible chance of being OK.”
Boosted on Friday by the return of England flanker Wilson, Walder said of his captain: “In all my years in rugby when you talk about someone who keeps themselves in unbelievable shape and gives absolutely everything in training, he’d definitely be in the top few.
“Everyone knows about his ability and leadership on the field, but even when he hasn’t been playing he’s been a big influence behind the scenes. He’s our captain now, he’s matured even more and it’s just great having him around.”
Well aware of the challenge awaiting his side at Ashton Gate as the Falcons prepare to face Bristol Bears, the head coach added: “Bristol are a great team to watch, I enjoy what they do and when you look at the spine of their team I think any coach would love having the luxury of so many stars at their disposal.
“The way they play in terms of attacking from deep reminds me a bit of an NFL philosophy, by which I mean the further back you are the more space there is in front of you.
“It’s very entertaining as a spectator and it’s very tough to shut down, but we’ve got a few ideas about that which we hope to be able to show on Friday.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Bristol Bears (Friday, 3pm, Ashton Gate, live on BT Sport)
15 Tom Arscott
14 Adam Radwan
13 George Wacokecoke
12 Matias Orlando
11 Ben Stevenson
10 Toby Flood
9 Sam Stuart
1 Trevor Davison
2 Jamie Blamire
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Greg Peterson
5 Marco Fuser
6 Sean Robinson
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Philip van der Walt
16 Charlie Maddison
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Mark Tampin
19 Connor Collett
20 Josh Basham
21 Louis Schreuder
22 Brett Connon
23 Gareth Owen
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Siva Naulago, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Ioan Lloyd, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren; 1 Peter McCabe, 2 George Kloska, 3 Jake Armstrong, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Joe Joyce, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 8 Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Thompson, 17 Andrew Turner, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 John Hawkins, 20 Fitz Harding, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 Luke Morahan.
Referee: Christophe Ridley