Newcastle Falcons have named their side for Friday's Aviva Premiership opener with Bath at Kingston Park, with six new signings in the XV.
Newcastle Falcons have named their side for Friday's Aviva Premiership opener with Bath at Kingston Park.
No fewer than six of the Falcons' new signings are set to make their full debuts as top-flight rugby makes a welcome return to the North East.
Experienced Scots Phil Godman and Mike Blair form a new half-back combination, while former Munster man Danny Barnes gets the nod at 13.
In the pack Franck Montanella starts at loosehead alongside fellow front-rowers Matt Thompson and Kieran Brookes with burgeoning talents Dom Barrow and Andy Saull coming into the back-row.
Ally Hogg skippers the northeasterners in the absence of Will Welch who misses out through an injury sustained in last week's final warm-up game with Edinburgh Rugby.
Guiding the Falcons back to the big time at the first time of asking, Richards is relishing this Friday's encounter with Bath.
“I'm excited and the players are too, but we won't get over excited and we'll do the job to the best of our ability,” said Richards.
“The step up from the Championship is massive and there's no getting away from that – in the Championship you might get two or three games where you are really tested to the limit for the full 80 minutes, but in the Premiership you have to play at the same intensity week in, week out.
A squad encompassing a mixture of youth and experience has been assembled at Kingston Park, and Falcons boss Richards believes he has a side capable of handling the rigours of the Premiership.
“When you look at the likes of Carlo del Fava, Mike Blair, Phil Godman, Andy Saull and Adam Powell to name but a few, we have lads who have been involved at the highest level.
“All of these players have been there, seen it and done it on the big stage. Looking at the side that we have now, we have a far more balanced team than we've had for a little while, and that balance of youth and experience will serve us well.
“It's consistency throughout the year which is going to be the biggest and most difficult thing because the Aviva Premiership isn't just about the odd game, and that's one of the most exciting things about it.”
Meanwhile, five of Bath's new signings will make competitive debuts at Kingston Park.
Whilst all have featured in the club's pre-season games, this will be the first time that George Ford, Matt Garvey, Leroy Houston, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson will pull on the Blue, Black and White hoops for real.
Ford links up with Peter Stringer in the half-backs, whilst Jonathan Joseph takes his place at outside centre, combining with Kyle Eastmond to make for an exciting mix in midfield. Matt Banahan and Semesa Rokoduguni provide pace and power out wide on the wings, with the dynamic young Watson named at fullback.
Garvey and Houston join forces in the back-row, on the blindside and at number eight respectively, with Mat Gilbert on the openside. The all-international front-row of Paul James, Rob Webber and David Wilson will look to continue their impressive pre-season form, as Stuart Hooper and Dave Attwood provide the grunt in the engine room.
Form: Newcastle Falcons will be buoyed with the knowledge that a newly-promoted Aviva Premiership side has lost a round one game just once since 2007. However 2007 was also the last time that Newcastle won their season opener as they beat Sale Sharks 33-12 at Kingston Park. In contrast Bath's only opening weekend defeat since 2006 came at Gloucester Rugby in 2009, whilst they have not lost at Kingston Park since October 2003. Having said that Bath's solo away victory in the Premiership since February 2012 came in last season's opening round at Worcester Warriors. Newcastle's only victory over Bath in their last 16 encounters in all competitions was 27-16 at the Rec on October 24 2009.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Danny Barnes, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Tom Catterick, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Ally Hogg (c), 7 Andy Saull, 6 Dom Barrow, 5 Scott MacLeod, 4 Carlo del Fava, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Matt Thompson, 1 Franck Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Rob Vickers, 17 Scott Wilson, 18 Gary Strain, 19 Mark Wilson, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Adam Powell.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Mat Gilbert, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Alafoti Fa'osiliva, 21 Micky Young, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Tom Biggs.
Date: Friday, September 6
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 19.45 BST
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Robin Goodliffe and Paul Dix
TMO: Trevor Fisher