Preview: Newcastle v Bath

Date published: December 31 2015

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Argentina centre Juan Pablo Socino steps up from the Falcons' bench as the only change to the starting XV that will face Bath on Saturday.

Having gained 18 minutes as a replacement against Leicester at Welford Road, Socino will this week come into the starting line-up in place of countryman Belisario at inside centre, where he will partner Chris Harris.

Elsewhere on the field 20-year-old Craig Willis continues at fly-half after an assured first Premiership start in the number ten shirt last weekend.

The rest of the Falcons backline remains unchanged, scrum-half Michael Young preparing to face his former side for the first time since returning to the North East.

Marcus Watson will be hoping to face brother Anthony as the Challenge Cup's leading try-scorer returns on the Falcons' wing alongside Alex Tait while Simon Hammersley makes his sixth start of the season at full-back.

The Falcons' pack that was dominant throughout last weekend's match against Leicester continues unchanged, Mark Wilson making his second start of the season in second-row alongside Sean Robinson.

Ahead of them Bobby Vickers makes his ninth appearance of the season at loosehead after playing in every one of the Falcons' Premiership games during 2015. He is joined in the front-row by George McGuigan at hooker and Scotland international Jon Welsh at tighthead.

Completing the pack are flankers Ally Hogg and club captain Will Welch with Tongan national captain and last weekend's try scorer Nili Latu once again pulling on the Falcons' number eight jersey.

Meanwhile, Bath have made three changes to the starting line-up that will take on Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park.

Up front, Nick Auterac returns to take his position on the loosehead side of the scrum, with Ross Batty and Henry Thomas alongside him.

Matt Garvey and Charlie Ewels are partnered in the engine room, as Guy Mercer again captains the team from the openside. Completing the pack are Leroy Houston on the blindside and David Denton at the base of the scrum.

Niko Matawalu joins Rhys Priestland in the half-backs, with the midfield combination of Ollie Devoto and Jonathan Joseph continuing.

Matt Banahan is the final change to the side that beat Worcester last weekend, coming onto the left wing. Horacio Agulla moves across to the right wing and Tom Homer keeps his place at full-back.

Form: Newcastle's only two league points this season came in a 15-all draw at Sale at the end of November. Falcons have played five matches at Kingston Park in major tournaments this season with their two victories both being in Europe against Russian outfit Enisei, and Connacht. Bath Rugby beat Worcester Warriors 21-14 at the Recreation Ground in Aviva Premiership Rugby on Sunday but have yet to win successive matches in the tournament this season. Bath have won four of their last six away games in Premiership Rugby, only losing at Wasps and at Leicester in that sequence. Newcastle's only victory over Bath in their last 20 encounters in all tournaments since 2004 was 27-16 at the Recreation Ground in October 2009. Bath have won on their last ten visits to Kingston Park since their last defeat there in October 2003.

The teams:

Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Ally Hogg, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Mark Wilson, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Todd Clever, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Tom Catterick, 23 Belisario Agulla.

Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Niko Matawalu, 8 David Denton, 7 Guy Mercer (c), 6 Leroy Houston, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Matt Garvey, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nick Auterac.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 David Wilson, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Jonathan Evans, 22 George Ford, 23 Anthony Watson.

Date: Saturday, January 2
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Wayne Falla, John Meredith
TMO: Sean Davey

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