Team news: Wilson skippers side on 200th appearance

Friday 22 December 2017

Mark Wilson captains Newcastle Falcons on Saturday at home to Harlequins, the 3pm Aviva Premiership kick-off marking his 200th competitive appearance for the club.

The 28-year-old Cumbrian, capped twice by England this year, skippers the side in the absence of Will Welch who is completing his return to play protocols.

The Falcons are going for a fourth successive victory in all competitions, their most recent Premiership assignment having delivered a last-minute victory at Northampton Saints.

Match-winners that night, Nili Latu and Sonatane Takulua, return to the fold after missing the European Challenge Cup victories over Bordeaux-Begles and Dragons, as do Vereniki Goneva, Chris Harris, Sinoti Sinoti, Toby Flood, Kyle Cooper and Jon Welsh.

Forwards coach Micky Ward said: “It’s vitally important that we as a forward group step up this weekend.

“We all know Harlequins have a lot of talent behind the scrum but if you also look at their pack they have Graham Rowntree coaching them, and they’ve changed a lot of what they do over the last year. If we give them easy ball from the scrum, line-out or let them dominate us in the physical areas then their backs can run riot, and it’s going to challenge our defence more than it should. Our pack need to win collisions, be solid in our set-piece and front up in those areas.

“When we’re on the money we’ve got nothing to fear but we need to be mentally and physically right, and when we do that we’re a match for anyone. We’re not there yet, we need to be more consistent in reaching those levels, and on the days when we haven’t done we’ve ended up being bitten.”

Going into the game on the back of a two-point victory at Dragons last weekend, Ward said: “We made hard work of certain things down in Wales and it was by no means a perfect performance, but the heart and attitude couldn’t be questioned in terms of dogging out a win like that.

“We’ve got to be real as coaches and analyse the game in a truthful way, and if we’re totally honest we wouldn’t win that many games playing like we did last weekend. The flip side of that is we are showing an ability to grind out the results in tight matches even when we’re not playing at our best, and that’s not a bad position to build from. It was also great for our young lads to get a taste of a hostile atmosphere where you’re getting a load of grief from the crowd, and not allowing it to affect you.

“It was a tough place to go and we got the result, so we’re not in a bad place. It boiled over at times and our lads stuck together, which I like. It’s a contact sport in a physical environment and you can’t shy away from that side of it. I’m not advocating our lads going and punching someone on the nose, but you can’t let someone push you around. You need to stand toe to toe, and we’ve got a group of players who will do that.”

Acknowledging the progress made this season without accepting that the job has been done, the Falcons’ record appearance holder said: “We don’t look massively at the league table or the group standings in the cups, if I’m honest. We gauge it more by how we feel we’re playing, and we keep challenging ourselves to play as well as we can.

“We’ve produced some decent stuff this year but there have also been days when we’ve let ourselves down, and we’re not getting above our station. As coaches we just want to keep the players focused, working hard and doing what we know works. We’ve got a good mind-set and we’ve produced some good results.”

Set to run out in front of another bumper Kingston Park crowd, Ward added: “All the lunatics come out at Christmas, and I love it. People are up a height, and when Kingston Park is full or thereabouts it can be a pretty hostile place for opposition teams.

“I hope our fans are nice and loud on the day, I wish it would be freezing cold for Quins but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be, but either way we’ll give them a good old-fashioned Newcastle welcome. That means going out there and beating the living daylights out of them in the forward stuff, then our backs carving up. That’ll be the North East welcome for them, fingers crossed.”

Tickets for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off are available by calling 0871 226 6060 or clicking here.

Newcastle Falcons team to face Harlequins (Saturday, 3pm, Kingston Park Stadium)

15 Simon Hammersley

14 Vereniki Goneva

13 Chris Harris

12 Juan Pablo Socino

11 Sinoti Sinoti

10 Toby Flood

9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers

2 Kyle Cooper

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Will Witty

6 Mark Wilson (captain)

7 Gary Graham

8 Nili Latu

Replacements

16 Ben Sowrey

17 Sam Lockwood

18 Scott Wilson

19 Sean Robinson

20 Ryan Burrows

21 Michael Young

22 Joel Hodgson

23 Alex Tait

Harlequins

15 Mike Brown

14 Charlie Walker

13 Alofa Alofa

12 Jamie Roberts

11 Tim Visser

10 Marcus Smith

9 Jono Kitto

1 Joe Marler

2 Dave Ward (captain)

3 Kyle Sinckler

4 George Merrick

5 Ben Glynn

6 James Chisholm

7 Chris Robshaw

8 Renaldo Bothma

Replacements

16 Charlie Piper

17 Lewis Boyce

18 Phil Swainston

19 Charlie Matthews

20 Mat Luamanu

21 Dave Lewis

22 James Lang

23 Henry Cheeseman

Referee: Luke Pearce

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