Preview: Newcastle v Bath

Date published: September 2 2011

Newcastle boss Alan Tait has sprung a few surprises in his squad to face Bath in their opening match of the new Aviva Premiership.

Newcastle boss Alan Tait has sprung a few surprises in his squad to face Bath in their opening match of the new Aviva Premiership season.

The Falcons are looking to bounce-back from a disappointing season last time out having spent the entire season in a relegation scrap.

After narrowly avoiding the drop, Tait is not packing any punches in his attempts to improve performances.

Summer signing Greg Goosen starts at full-back, while explosive Samoan centre Jamie Helleur partners Luke Eves in the midfield. At scrum-half, Chris Pilgrim gets the nod ahead of Jordi Pasqualin.

New Kiwi recruit Ryan Shortland, Matt Thompson (shoulder), Jonny Golding (Achilles), Redford Pennycook (arm) and Rikki Sheriffe (hamstring) all miss out through injury.

“There are a couple of selections in there that people will raise eye brows at, but I always said that I would reward those players who put the hard work in over the summer,” said Tait.

“Our performances in the three warm-up games have been good. You don't realise how important friendlies are, and we didn't get the opportunity to play many last year.

“We have had Bath watched in their warm-up games and we have analysed them in detail, identifying where their strengths and weaknesses are. I know roughly how Sir Ian McGeechan likes to play and how he gets his forwards up for a game.”

McGeechan too has named some new faces in his starting XV, with lock Ryan Caldwell, flanker Carl Fearns, and centre Dan Hipkiss all set to make their debuts for the club. Academy prop Kane Palma-Newport will make his first appearance for the senior side.

Despite having claimed wins home and away against the Falcons last season, McGeechan insists there is no room for complacency ahead of the clash.

“We beat them twice at the end of last season, but playing a side at the beginning of a season is always a bit different. Last year, their confidence wasn't high and they weren't that relaxed, but all that goes away with the beginning of a new season,” said McGeechan.

“We expect them to do things with a bit more ambition and confidence, and we have to match that. We know how we want to play and we know the shape we want to put out on the field.”

Form: Newcastle's only win over Bath since 2004 was 27-16 at The Rec on 24 October 2009, whilst Bath have not been defeated at Kingston Park in their last seven visits. Newcastle Falcons have not won on the opening weekend of the new season since beating Sale 33-12 in 2007. The Falcons lost their last seven Aviva Premiership Rugby matches last season, and another defeat will see them set a new unwanted Falcons record in this category. Bath Rugby's only round one defeat in the past four years was at Gloucester in 2009. Bath concluded their last campaign with a run of five successive victories.

The teams:

Newcastle: 15 Greg Goosen, 14 Luke Fielden, 13 Luke Eves, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Alex Tait, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Chris Pilgrim, 8 Richard Mayhew, 7 Will Welch, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Andrew Van der Heijden, 4 James Hudson (capt), 3 Ashley Wells, 2 Rob Vickers,1 Grant Shiells
Replacements: 16 Joe Graham, 17 Dan Frazier, 18 James Hall, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Jordi Pasqualin, 22 James Fitzpatrick, 23 Tom Catterick

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Ben Williams, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Sam Vesty, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Ben Skirving, 5 Stuart Hooper (capt), 4 Ryan Caldwell, 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 David Flatman
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Duncan Bell, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Paul Roberts, 23 Jack Cuthbert

Date: Saturday, September 3
Kick-off: 18:30 BST
Venue: Kingston Park
Referee: Martin Fox