Newcastle have praised their depth ahead of their clash with Exeter at Kingston Park on Friday.
The Falcons are without full-back Simon Hammersley after the season-ending ACL injury he sustained in their last league outing at Wasps, while Sonatane Takulua, and Evan Olmstead are both away on international duty.
Fit-again Fijian Vereniki Goneva and former Leicester team-mate Opeti Fonua are both ready to make an impact from the bench after overcoming early-season muscle injuries – flanker Will Welch skippering the Falcons as they aim to continue their strong home record in the league.
Newcastle have won two of their three Premiership outings at Kingston Park Stadium and only lost the other by a single point to Leicester Tigers, Richards saying: "It is going to be an interesting few weeks, we will take out of it what we can and hopefully that will be a few wins.
"We are playing three good sides in Exeter, Northampton and Harlequins, we are doing better than we have done in previous years and that is reflected in the way the crowd has been drawn in for Friday night. The squad is improving, we have a lot of good young players coming through and it creates a nice headache in the sense that guys are staking a genuine claim for places.
"We hadn’t won a game until the week after Christmas last year, so in that sense it is a totally different club altogether. There is a real buzz about the place, the boys are enjoying their rugby and we are playing a lot of ball in hand. We are kicking a lot less than any other side in the Premiership – probably too little in some respects – but at the same time we are enjoying our rugby and putting the ball through the hands."
On the threat posed by Exeter, he added: "There are a couple of things they are doing a little differently, but at the same time they have played against some good teams. I don’t think you can draw too much from their start to the season in terms of the quality they have got – they are a really good side and it will be a difficult game.
"They have a big, lumpy forward pack, they don’t mind carrying it through their pack and our forwards are going to have to put in a real shift. If we get what we want out of that forward area we have a set of backs who can cause a lot of damage. People like Sinoti Sinoti, Marcus Watson, Juan Pablo Socino, Alex Tait, Dom Waldouck, Mike Delany and the like – we have a back line which is outstanding.
"We’re doing alright. We’ve won three games out of seven and taken a few losing bonus points. We have got every chance of winning a few more games going into Christmas, and in that respect we are doing fine. But the obvious way to improve things is to score more tries and concede fewer."
Meanwhile, Exeter coach Rob Baxter says the time has come for his side to put their foot down and ‘accelerate’ their way through this season’s Premiership campaign.
Buoyed by last weekend’s convincing 62-25 win over Cardiff Blues in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Baxter is hoping the feel-good factor of that ten-try victory will ensure his side arrive in the North East with a spring in their step.
"This is the start of a big block of Premiership fixtures for us," said Baxter. "All week we’ve tried to focus on ourselves and get ourselves up to speed and the intensity that we want to be – and in a lot of ways we are starting to look mentally fit for the season.
"I know that might sound strange to some people, but that is where we are at. I’ve said to the players the expectation from me is for us to now start to accelerate our way through the season. I think we have come through not necessarily a sticky patch, but more so a patch we needed to go through.
"Now what we need to make sure we remember is what the Premiership is all about and by that I mean just how important and how precious each game is. Right now I like where we are as a squad and I feel we’re on a bit of an upward curve. This game, I suppose, is the ideal test for us to test that out.
With the team taking to the skies on Thursday to make the long trip to Kingston Park, Baxter is hoping his players can emulate last season when they got off to a flying start at the same venue, securing the try bonus point inside the first 30 minutes.
"I think every team wants to get out of the blocks quickly in every game," continued Baxter. "You always want to put points on the board, put pressure on the opposition and take pressure off yourselves."
As expected Baxter recalls many of his frontline stars for Friday’s encounter after many were given the past fortnight off to recharge their batteries. Of last weekend’s starting team, Phil Dollman, Ian Whitten and former Falcon Will Chudley are all that remain in place.
However, on the bench there are first-time call-ups in the Premiership for Shaun Malton and Joe Simmonds, the latter of whom was named man of the match against the Blues last time out.
Otherwise, the visitors have a very familiar look to their line-up, although Baxter was able to report that a number of his walking wounded were edging evert closer to full fitness, including the likes of Don Armand and Dave Ewers, while England duo Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jack Nowell are also progressing nicely.
Form: Newcastle Falcons' last three fixtures in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Newcastle won their most recent home game in the competition 19-14 against Bristol in Round 6 but have not won successive matches at home since February. Exeter Chiefs are without a win in the last three rounds of the Premiership since beating Bristol 41-14 at Ashton Gate on 23 September. The Chiefs have not gone four games without a win in the competition since New Year 2015. Exeter’s only loss to Newcastle in ten previous meetings in the Premiership was 24-29 at Kingston Park in October 2014.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Sam Lockwood
Replacements: 16 David Nelson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 David Wilson, 19 Glen Young, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Vereniki Goneva
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ben White, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Lachie Turner
Date: Friday, November 18
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Referee: Tim Wiggleswort
Assistant Referees: John Meredith, Gareth Copse
TMO: Trevor Fisher