Sean Robinson returns for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday as they end their Gallagher Premiership season with a trip to Northampton Saints.
Newcastle have made just one change for the televised 3pm kick-off, with the fit-again second-rower replacing Philip van der Walt, who sustained an ACL injury to his left knee in the Falcons’ last game against Leicester Tigers.
Conor Kenny is in line for his competitive debut after being named on the bench, with the former Connacht prop having missed most of the season due to a neck injury sustained during the pre-season victory at Glasgow.
Newcastle have won on their last three Premiership visits to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens, with head coach Dave Walder adamant they are travelling with the intention of crashing the Saints’ play-off party.
“All the pressure is on Northampton, it’s basically a free hit for us and we’re looking forward to it,” he said.
“We’ve got a good recent record there in the league, there’ll be a good crowd in and the pitch is always in great nick. We’re going down there to play some rugby, looking to finish our season on a real positive.”
With Saturday’s game marking the last of Dean Richards’ ten-year spell as director of rugby, Walder said: “Dean has been a big presence around the club for a long time now, and a huge influence on my own coaching career.
“He took a punt on me when he first brought me in to the club, and he’s helped me a lot. He challenges you every day, he makes you think about things from different perspectives and I’ll always be grateful for the role he has played.”
Richards, speaking ahead of his last match as Newcastle’s director of rugby, said: “I’ve been doing it for 25 years - I need a bit of a rest, and the club needs a different face at the helm.
“I’ll miss not being around the lads and in the office on a day-to-day basis, and all the team spirit and camaraderie that goes with it. But nothing is forever, and you have to try and find those things in other areas of your life. One thing I definitely won’t miss is coming in during the winter mornings to clear the snow from the pitch, but you tend to find out who’s a team player in those situations, as well as who isn’t.”
A two-time Championship title winner during his time with the Falcons, Richards also led the club to their first Premiership semi-final in 2018, winning the Premiership’s director of rugby of the season award. Asked about his time in charge at Kingston Park, he said: “The thing that has pleased me the most is the way in which we have developed players, a number of whom have gone on to play internationally.
“Seeing someone like Chris Harris playing for the Lions, even though he’s no longer with us, gives me a lot of pride, but as well as those guys I also feel for the boys who haven’t had the international recognition they deserve.
“From a playing point of view, games like Toulon away gave me a lot of satisfaction, when no-one gave us a chance but we ended up becoming the first English team to win there in the Champions Cup. Creating an upset is always a good feeling, and when you’re written off as often as we are, you really enjoy those days.
“I love the fact that we’ve based a lot of what we do on our team spirit rather than being a collection of individual superstars, and I enjoy that side of things. We’ve punched above our weight, and every game we win is down to that collective effort.
“We have a habit of getting more out of our players than any other team in the Premiership, looking at how much we are able to spend on our squad compared to other clubs. If you talked about it in golfing terms, par for us would be 12th or 13th in the league, depending how many teams were in it, and we’ve only finished in that par position once during my time here.”
Saturday’s game is live in the UK on BT Sport 1 and BT Sport Ultimate, with audio commentary from the BBC Newcastle team via the BBC Rugby website and BBC Sport app.
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints (Saturday, 3pm, cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens)
15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young; 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Gary Graham, 7 Josh Basham, 8 Callum Chick (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Conor Kenny, 19 George Merrick, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 George Wacokecoke.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell; 1 Alex Waller, 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Paul Hill, 4 Alex Coles, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Aaron Hinkley, 8 Lewis Ludlam (captain).
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Ehren Painter, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Brandon Nansen, 21 Juarno Augustus, 22 Tom James, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Referee: Karl Dickson.