Newcastle Falcons have named their side for this Sunday’s RFU Championship opener at Bristol as the northeasterners gear up for a new era under the stewardship of Dean Richards (kick-off 3pm).
The Falcons have made five changes to the side that narrowly lost 24-20 at Ulster last week, with Taiasina Tu’ifua, Chris Pilgrim, Ryan Shortland, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins all coming into the starting XV.
Pilgrim will pull on the No.9 jersey while Crockett starts at outside centre partnering Tane Tu’ipulotu at the heart of the backline. Andrew Higgins and Ryan Shortland feature on either wing, adding fire-power to a potent back division.
Tu’ifua’s pick at back-row is the solitary change in the pack which includes the experienced heads of Jonny Golding, James Hudson, Ally Hogg and Rob Vickers.
“As we are the side that has come down we will be everyone’s cup final and we are under no illusions that everybody will be trying to beat us,” said Richards ahead of the new season.
He added: “As I found with Quins there is absolutely no given in the Championship, you have to fight for everything.
“The players will be going to places they won’t have played at before and they will experience changing facilities they won’t have experienced before as well as coming across crowds that will be a lot closer to the field.
“It will be a different challenge for them to get accustomed to that type of environment but we will have fun and learn.
“We will be aiming to finish top but every game will be very, very difficult for us starting with Bristol this weekend.”
Richards’ men will be aiming to carry their fine pre-season form into the Championship season after recording three wins out of four.
Comprehensive victories against Doncaster, Leeds and Edinburgh coupled with a narrow defeat at last season’s Heineken Cup runners-up Ulster, has enthused fans on Tyneside.
Following this weekend’s showdown at the Memorial Stadium, Richards takes his unit to London Scottish next week before hosting Doncaster on Friday 14 September (kick-off 8pm).
Tickets are still available for the Doncaster game by calling the Falcons Ticket Hotline on 0871 226 6060 or click here to purchase online.
Newcastle: 15 Luke Fielden, 14 Andrew Higgins, 13 Alex Crockett, 12 Tane Tu’ipulotu, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Jonny Golding, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 4 Sean Tomes, 5 James Hudson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Taiasina Tu’ifua
Reps: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 James Hall, 18 Scott MacLeod, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Rory Lawson, 21 James Fitzpatrick, 22 Waisea Luveniyali
Bristol: 15 Jon Goodridge, 14 Mike Tagicakibau, 13 Jack Gadd, 12 Luke Eves, 11 Ryan Edwards, 10 Tristan Roberts, 9 James Grindal, 1 Kyle Traynor, 2 Ross Johnston, 3 Wayne Thompson, 4 Mariano Sambucetti, 5 Glen Townson, 6 Ian Grieve (c) 7 Redford Pennycook, 8 Marco Mama
Reps: 16 Rhys Lawrence, 17 Bruce Douglas, 18 Ben Glyn, 19 James Merriman, 20 Ruki Tipuna, 21 Matthew Jones, 22 David McIlwaine