Preview: Bath v Newcastle Falcons

Date published: March 17 2016

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Wing Jeff Williams makes his first start for Bath, while club captain Stuart Hooper returns to lead the team against Newcastle Falcons at the Rec on Friday. 

Williams – one of Bath's three try-scorers at the Stoop last week – is the only change in the backs, and starts on the left wing. 

Semesa Rokoduguni is named on the right wing, and Tom Homer at full-back. Kyle Eastmond and Matt Banahan’s midfield partnership continues, as does Chris Cook and Ollie Devoto’s in the half-backs.  

Joining Hooper in the second row is Dominic Day. Matt Garvey remains on the blindside flank, completing the back row with openside Francois Louw and number eight Leroy Houston.

In the front row, David Wilson comes in at tighthead, as Max Lahiff and Rob Webber take their places at loosehead and hooker respectively.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons have made four changes to their side for this encounter.
 
Two of those come in the front row where Rob Vickers and Taione Vea replace Alex Rogers and Mike Cusack respectively, the others in the back three as Marcus Watson and Simon Hammersley come in for Sinoti Sinoti and Alex Tait.
 
On the bench there is a place for Argentinean back Belisario Agulla who could be in line to face his older brother Horacio, who is on Bath’s bench.
 
Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards expects a stern test against a Bath side who were beaten 19-14 when the two teams last met on January 2, a result which sparked a run of four successive Aviva Premiership home wins for Newcastle.
 
 “They have got some quality players and a huge amount of depth, their back three is something else and they have in-form centres with Kyle Eastmond and Matt Banahan both playing really well," he said.
 
“We know what to expect from a line-out perspective. They drive it every time, which will be interesting, and we are aware of that. Outside of that they will play rugby from anywhere with people like Semesa Rokoduguni, Horacio Agulla and Tom Homer in the back three. They will run it from all areas, and it is a good back line which will really test us.
 
“Their forwards lay the platform for them and we will have to compete with that. We need to make sure we play in the right parts of the field.”
 
Excited by the atmosphere which awaits his side under the Friday night lights, Richards added: “There is nothing better. The pitch will be nothing more than what I experienced 30 years ago. It hasn’t changed much, but this is a big game and everyone is looking forward to it.”
 
“Years ago you would go down there and it would be one hell of a punch-up. How rugby has changed. It is a lot more sanitised these days and things have changed totally, but what has not changed is that the Rec is a difficult place to go to. The boys all know that.”
 
On Bath, he added: “It has probably  been a bit of a surprise for everybody this year to see where they are. Like us they have had a few injuries and people out throughout the year. It goes to show that does impact on teams, they will be missing some guys but we also have a lot injured, and both sides are impacted.
 
“Bath clawed their way back into last Friday’s game at Harlequins during the last 20 minutes and showed what they can do. But our recent form has been good and we know we will have to put in one hell of a performance. We will throw absolutely everything we have into it.”

Form: A win for the Falcons at the Recreation Ground could see them move even further away from London Irish at the foot of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table, while a win for Bath would them away from the relegation zone. Bath have won just twice in the last eight rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby – 16-14 at Worcester in February and 25-17 at home to London Irish in March. Newcastle Falcons have lost their last three matches against Gloucester, Worcester Warriors and Exeter Chiefs and are one of only two sides yet to win away from home in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season. Newcastle did beat Bath 19-14 at Kingston Park in Round Eight, but have only once before achieved a season's Premiership double over them – when they were champions in the inaugural campaign of 1997/8. The Falcons' most recent victory at the Recreation Ground was 27-16 in October 2009, but despite those unwanted statistics.

The teams:

Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jeff Williams, 10 Ollie Devoto, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Max Lahiff
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 Max Clark, 23 Horacio Agulla

Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Giamba Venditti, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Calum Green, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Taione Vea, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Rob Vickers 
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Michael Young, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Belisario Agulla

Date: Friday, March 18
Venue: The Recreation Ground
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey, Andrew Small
TMO: Stuart Terheege

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