Preview: Newcastle v London Irish

Date published: April 15 2016

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The Aviva Premiership bottom two sides will go head-to-head on Sunday and as the thought of relegation looms, the significance of the clash has not been lost on either side.

For the home outfit, Gonzalo Tiesi makes his first senior appearance in more than a year as Newcastle prepare for Sunday’s visit of London Irish to Kingston Park Stadium.

The Argentinean centre has missed the entire campaign through injury but returns in time for a game which is expected to see a season-high crowd. Newcastle have made four changes from the side which faced Harlequins last time out.

Tiesi and countryman Juan Pablo Socino form a new-look midfield partnership, Tiesi making his playing comeback three weeks ago with a full 80 minutes in the Falcons’ bonus-point victory at Gloucester as they secured an Aviva A-League semi-final place.

Simon Hammersley returns at full-back as Alex Tait moves to the wing. Sinoti Sinoti makes way after missing the match through injury.

In the pack there is just one personnel change as Sean Robinson’s return to the second row sees Mark Wilson move to the blindside flank. Director of rugby Dean Richards is well aware of the stakes as his side aim to take a massive step closer to securing their top-flight status.

Richards said: "In some respects you would want it to be like any other week, but everybody is billing it to be slightly different. Having said that, we are four points clear of them with two games left after this weekend, so the pressure really is on London Irish."

Aiming to keep cool heads and a positive mind-set, he added: "In desperate times people do desperate things, and there is no doubt about the fact that when London Irish come up here they will be throwing the kitchen sink and everything else at it. From our point of view it is understanding what they bring to the table, going out there and delivering a win. To do that we need to deliver a performance which is controlled, and yet at the same time shows the ambition to go out there and win."

Making no attempt to shirk the importance of the fixture and the responsibility which rests on his own shoulders, Richards said: "It comes with the job, the territory, and you just have to accept that. It is of course important to keep Premiership rugby in the North East, and we and the players understand that importance. Everybody wants to be up there, and players look forward to these kinds of big games.

"There is a real excitement in the camp about this fixture, there really is. And not in a way whereby it is over the top. It is knowing that it is a big game, and knowing that the nerves and excitement go hand in hand with that in the lead-up to big games. It is nice to see."

Meanwhile, for London Irish, Alex Lewington returns to the wing for Sunday’s crunch match.

The London Irish flyer has missed his side’s last three games in all competitions through injury, and his inclusion in the starting XV is a welcome boost for the Exiles going into the contest.

Lewington is one of two changes to the side that locked horns with Sale Sharks in the Exiles’ last Premiership outing earlier this month, the other being Jebb Sinclair getting the nod in the back-row alongside openside flanker Blair Cowan. The Canadian international comes in for Ofisa Treviranus who is named amongst the replacements, with skipper Luke Narraway switching to number eight.

"Alex Lewington has been one of our form players this year and I’m pleased to have him back in the side for this weekend," said head coach Tom Coventry.

"He has been very exciting on the wing and London Irish runs through his blood, so he is pretty happy to be back," he added.

A four-point gap separates the Exiles from their North East counterparts ahead of the trip to Kingston Park. Coventry is satisfied with preparations as Irish head north, saying: "We have had a good week in training and the lads have worked on the processes that we need to put in place in order to be successful this weekend.

"Newcastle are very tough upfront and they have a good set-piece which has worked well for them all year, so we are well aware of what to expect in that department."

Form: Newcastle Falcons have lost their last six Premiership Rugby matches since beating Northampton by a single point in 51 at Kingston Park on February 21. The Falcons have lost their last two home matches and have not lost three in succession at the venue since 2014. London Irish have won just once in the last eight rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby: 23-18 at home to Gloucester in round 17. The Exiles have won only once on the road in any tournament since February 2015, 31-17 at Agen in the Challenge Cup on January 23. London Irish have won their last four Premiership Rugby encounters against the Falcons since Newcastle's 30-11 at Kingston Park in October 2013.

The teams:

Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Taione Vea, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Mike Cusack, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Chris Harris

London Irish: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Luke Narraway (c), 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Will Lloyd, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Jerry Sexton, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma

Date: Sunday, April 17
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, Paul Burton
TMO: Graham Hughes

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