Falcons Head Coach gives his thoughts on team selection vs Northampton Saints.
Newcastle Falcons Head Coach John Wells praised his players’ consistency of performance as the driving force behind the decision to name a largely unchanged starting line-up for Sunday’s game against Northampton Saints.
“Consistency in selection comes from people playing well but also being fit and available, and it just goes to show that if we start to put a regular team out that is performing well together we start to get consistency in terms of performances and results.”
The Falcons only new face to their starting XV comes in the form of England international Mouritz Botha, who steps in at Lock in place of Mark Wilson, the Cumbrian moving to the back row to replace Nili Latu after the Tongan limped from the field following last Friday’s man of the match winning performance.
“There’s no doubt that Nili’s been a star these last few weeks; he’s settled in and knows what we want from him now just as we know him and the way he works, and that’s happened as a result of having consistency around availability and selection. He’s a big loss for us in that respect but conversely Mark, who’s been absolutely awesome for us in the second row gets an opportunity to return to the back row.
“He’ll bring his style and what he does very very well to the side, while Mo, who’s been chomping at the bit since his last performance, will get some game time too.
“I’d like to think that the changes we’ve made are very positive; it’s a different blend and there are things that we will miss, but there are things we will gain as a result of that.”
Alongside Botha Sean Robinson will continue in the second row, who this week was named by Opta as the Aviva Premiership’s top line out performer to date.
“At the start of the season we were hoping Sean would be pushing himself regularly for a starting place with three or four internationals also kicking around the squad in his position.
“But actually what he’s done in a short space of time is to not only get himself lock, stock and barrel in this team, but to do his job so well that he’s a major part of why the team’s been so successful over the last few weeks, and to grow into a confident, articulate player that backs himself on the field.
“When you’re at the top of the line out stats as Sean is, with people knowing he’s a good line out forward, to then still go out there and win balls under the amount of pressure that he’s had to perform at is remarkable, and he’s been outstanding for us.”
Competition for a place in the Falcons second row looks set to become even more fierce over the coming weeks as Italian international Josh Furno is named on the bench for the first time this year following a length lay-off with injury.
But Wells explains that while having players ready to make their long-awaited return from injury is a positive, it does not necessarily guarantee their place in the team.
“It definitely helps with the depth of the squad. But what we’ve found before is that you just can’t drop people straight back in because it takes time. So Josh, like Sinoti, and it’ll be the same when Mike Delany comes back, might take some time to bed back in and get up to speed and understand how we want them to play, as well as to get themselves back to the level of match fitness and sharpness they want to be at.
“At times in the past we’ve had to throw guys straight back in because we haven’t had depth in their positions to cover them. But if we’re in the position where we’ve got guys who are playing well then it’s up to the guys that are coming back, whatever their previous form, fitness or ability, to show that they are deserving of that place.
“It’s credit to the guys that are starting this weekend in those positions that they’ve played and deserve that chance.”
With the Falcons now four weeks into a ten-week block of continuous Aviva Premiership fixtures, Wells is only to aware of the potential issues that this season’s schedule can bring, but believes the club are managing it well.
“The biggest challenge we have is keeping people fit now, so we have to be smart in how we train and how we look after guys on match days as well.
“It’s a hard time for everybody, particularly if you have players involved in international fixtures, pick up a few injuries or are constrained by squad size. We’re no different from anyone else in that way, but I think what’s happening with us that’s different from the beginning of the season is that we now have some consistency within that core group.
“Not only that but the guys are playing well which is helping to get the results we’ve been having. Now it’s just about managing their workload because there’s only so much you can do in a week between games.”
With just over a week between the Falcons last match, a 26-14 victory at home to Leicester Tigers, and this weekend’s match, what is Wells expecting from Sunday’s opponents, Northampton Saints?
“Northampton started off the season struggling to score tries and play the style of rugby they became synonymous with last season.
“But it’s noticeable over the last three weeks as the Six Nations has developed – whether that’s coincidental or whether that’s about breaking up some shackles behind the scenes – that they’ve started to play a lot more rugby and a lot more adventurous rugby, to the point where they’re now scoring tries from inside their own 22 never mind the opposition 22, and that promotes a greater threat.
“That being said though we’re on our own pitch, it’s our house and we’ve shown that we can go up against the best in the Premiership and come out on the wrong side.
“It’s up to us to do the same again this weekend, and if we get our bits right and do what we think we’re good at there’s no reason we can’t be competitive and get something out against Northampton as well.”
Tickets are still available for Sunday’s game against Northampton Saints (ko 3pm) starting from £15 for adults and £5.50 for juniors.
For more information or to get yours click here, visit the Kingston Park Stadium Box Office or call the Falcons’ 24 hour Ticket Hotline on 0871 226 6060.