Newcastle Falcons have made two changes to their team for Saturday’s Premiership visit of Bristol to Kingston Park Stadium.
Michael Young and David Wilson both come into the starting XV. Young starts at scrum-half against the newly-promoted outfit while Wilson packs down at tight-head prop after coming on from the bench last weekend in the first game of his second spell with the club.
Despite Bristol sitting win-less at the foot of the table after five defeats from five, Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards is taking nothing for granted against a team who were victorious on their last visit to Kingston Park during Newcastle’s 2013 RFU Championship run-in.
"They’re a good side. You only have to look at the teams they’ve played so far. Their start has been slightly different to ours, they’re a good team on paper and it’ll be a difficult game," Richards said.
"They’ve assembled a reasonably good squad. The issue is they’ve played against Exeter, Saracens, Wasps and Harlequins. All those sides play a bit of rugby, and three of those sides have been thumping teams whoever they’ve come across. You can’t read too much into what their results have been so far because they haven’t played the same guys we have. I think it’ll be a tight game.
"The outside expectation is that we’ll win and we’ll win comfortably, but you can’t expect that and you can’t prepare for that. If you look at their results, they’ve played against a totally different set of teams than we’ve played against. Three of those are probably going to finish in the top three this year – Saracens, Exeter and Wasps. They’ve been thumped by each of those three, but they’re going to be far more competitive than people think.
"They’ll be physical up front. Their scrummage is not bad and they have people like Jordan Crane in their side who are big ball carriers for them. Gavin Henson, if he’s fit, should be a threat. They’ve got good players all around and, in that respect, they’ll be a real threat to us. I think they had 57 players out on the pitch training this week. They’ve got injuries, but they’ve still got a lot of players available to them. They’ve got a squad out there to pick from.”
Asked about the notion that Saturday is a "cup final" for Bristol, Richards said: "I think it’s massively important for them. For us, we’re picking up points most games and we’re doing reasonably well. We just need to make sure that we nail this week, finish this batch of games positively, and then we’ll be reasonably happy.
"We’re alright. We’ve won two out of the five so far, and should have won another two. Had we won those, then we would have been ecstatic. We didn’t though, and even though we took match points out of those games the players were pretty disappointed with the fact that we didn’t nail them. Had we done that we would be far happier.
"It’s that little bit of accuracy in terms of understanding when to play and how to play, and getting into that right position to play. Sometimes it just needs one or two errors from the odd individual here and there, and that can have a big impact. We’re not a side at this moment in time that is blessed with a lot of ball carriers and line breakers, so in that way we tend to have to be pretty accurate in everything we do to make sure we score.
"When you’ve got a Niki Goneva out, a Nili Latu out and a Marcus Watson who’s only just coming back from injury, it has an impact on the line breaks you make and your finishing ability as well. We miss these boys, but provided we’re more accurate we’ll still score our tries."
Bristol coach Andy Robinson has made three changes to the side that faced Saracens, as Ben Glynn and Mitch Eadie come into the pack for the Kingston Park clash.
David Lemi also makes a return to first team action for Bristol. The Samoan international is set to make his first outing of the campaign after recovering from a knee injury.
"It’s fantastic to have somebody of David’s quality and experience back in the match day squad and that’s complemented by the return of Ben Glynn from a shoulder injury," Robinson said.
"We’ve had a good week of training and everybody is looking forward to the challenge that awaits us at Kingston Park. We’re in control of our own performance so it’s important we go and play positive rugby and find that consistency across the entire eighty minutes."
Ben Mosses (knee), Gavin Henson (dead leg), Marc Jones (knee), Callum Sheedy (hamstring), Glen Townson (knee) and Ian Evans (hip) are all unavailable for selection.
Form: Newcastle Falcons have recorded two victories so far this season, beating Sale at Kingston Park and Gloucester at Kingsholm. The Falcons have lost two of their last three home matches, to Sale at the end of last season, and to Leicester in round four of the Premiership. Bristol have now lost their last six matches in all competitions and last weekend were held scoreless at home for the first time since Cardiff Blues visited the Memorial Stadium in the European Cup in January 2008. Bristol’s most recent away victory was at Doncaster in the first leg of the Championship Final in May whilst they have not won on the road in Aviva Premiership Rugby since a visit to Newcastle in March 2008. Bristol won the most recent encounter between the two clubs, 19-14 at Kingston Park in the Championship in April 2013. Bristol have been victorious on four of their last six visits to Newcastle. Wayne Barnes moves ahead of Dave Pearson into second place in the all-time Premiership Rugby referees list, leaving only Chris White ahead on 190 matches refereed.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 David Wilson, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Will Witty, 20 Daniel Temm, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Belisario Agulla
Bristol: 15 Jordan Williams, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Jack Tovey, 12 Will Hurrell, 11 David Lemi, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Jack Lam (c), 6 Mitch Eadie, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Ben Glynn, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Kyle Traynor
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Gaston Cortes, 19 James Phillips, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Adrian Jarvis, 23 Jack Wallace
Date: Saturday, October 8
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 15:00 BST (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Peter Alla, Steve Lee
TMO: Sean Davey