Preview: Exeter v Newcastle

Date published: December 20 2013

Exeter have made a handful of changes to their starting line-up for Saturday's Premiership clash with Newcastle at Sandy Park.

Exeter Chiefs have made a handful of changes to their starting line-up for Saturday's Premiership clash with Newcastle at Sandy Park.

Damian Welch, Ben White and Kai Horstmann all return in the pack; Gareth Steenson is back at fly-half having missed the last weekend's Heineken Cup clash away to Toulon with a shoulder injury, whilst Sam Hill comes into the centre at the expense of the injured Phil Dollman.

Also included from the outset are prop Ben Moon, who will be making his 100th senior appearance for the club; whilst full-back Luke Arscott is in line to play his 100th Premiership game.

After a punishing run of fixtures, both domestically and in Europe, the Chiefs will be looking not only to address a five-game losing streak, but at the same time deliver an early Christmas present to their supporters in the final home game of 2013.

In previous top flight encounters between the Chiefs and the Falcons, it's been Exeter who have held the upper hand on each occasion, but Chiefs assistant coach Ali Hepher feels Newcastle's year in the Championship has not only allowed them to rebuild internally, but at the same rediscover that winning feeling.

“They have strong foundations and they are a tough side to play against,” warned Hepher.

“They are strong defensively and they'll be tough to crack, so we know we'll have to play exceptionally well for a full 80 mins to get anything out of the game at the weekend. We're under no illusions about the task in hand, but this is the Premiership and you get it every week.

“We're aware we are capable of putting in good performance against Premiership sides, so we are fully focused on that and if we get it right at our end, hopefully we'll come away with the win.”

With crucial league fixtures against the Falcons, Harlequins and London Wasps coming up over the festive period, Hepher says it's vital the Chiefs use this upcoming block of fixtures to further cement their spot amongst the division's frontrunners.

“It's an important period for us in terms of the season,” added Hepher.

“In the past being in that top six has been vital in terms of qualification for the Heineken Cup. Who knows what it will lead to this year, but I'd imagine the top six will be important again, so we have to push hard to be in that mix.

“We've got games coming thick and fast right now, including the Big Game at Twickenham against Harlequins and then Wasps away, so it's important we produce some big performances during this time. We did it last year coming out of the Heineken and that will be the aim this time as well.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons welcome back experienced scrum-half Mike Blair to their ranks. The Scot, who enjoyed a stellar international career north of the border, is one of six changes as the Falcons look to close the gap on eighth place Sale Sharks.

Former Munster centre Danny Barnes partners Adam Powell at the heart of the Falcons' back-line, while Ryan Shortland gets the nod on the wing.

Kieran Brookes comes in at tighthead alongside hooker Scott Lawson and loosehead Rob Vickers. Carlo del Fava replaces Sean Tomes in the second-row and stand in skipper Ally Hogg rounds off the changes, packing down at number eight.

This weekend's contest at Sandy Park kicks-off a pivotal period for the Tynesiders as they also host London Wasps and Sale Sharks within the next fortnight.

“This is a massive period for us which starts with Exeter tomorrow and ends with Sale in the New Year, and all three of these matches are crucial,” said Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards.

“Exeter are a side that work for each other on a weekly basis and everyone puts a shift in – as a team that's all you can ask for and each player knows what is required of them in each position.

“Not only have they got a strong pack, they have a talented back three too, and they are now playing a lot more expansive than they have done in previous years.

“We know it's a difficult place to play down there, and there are not many sides that get much joy out of Exeter, but we're looking forward to the challenge.”

Form: Exeter Chiefs have lost their last five contests in all tournaments since beating Harlequins 19-5 at Sandy Park in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in early November. The Chiefs have been defeated in their last two home games, against Saracens and Toulon, but have never lost three successive games at Sandy Park. Newcastle Falcons beat Italian outfit Calvisano home and away over the last two weekends, but have not been victorious in the Premiership since London Irish visited Kingston Park in Round Six. The Falcons have won twice on the road in the tournament this season, at Sale (Round Two) and at Worcester (Round Five). The Chiefs have won all four previous Premiership clashes against Newcastle, but the Falcons have been victorious in three contests in other tournaments the most recent of which being 17-3 at Kingston Park in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in February 2011. Newcastle are yet to win a game on Exeter soil in any tournament.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (capt), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Hanks, 20 Don Armand, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo.

Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Ally Hogg (c), 7 Andy Saull, 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 4 Carlo del Fava, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Will Welch, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Jamie Helleur

Date: Saturday, December 21
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Venue: Sandy Park
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Roger Baileff, Paul Burton
Television match official: Geoff Warren