Newcastle Falcons have made three changes to their side ahead of Friday night’s visit of Wasps to Kingston Park Stadium.
Will Witty replaces Evan Olmstead after the Canadian suffered an injury in the Christmas Eve trip to Saracens, Callum Chick making way for Tongan international Opeti Fonua after receiving a knock in the same game. The only other change to the side from the 21-6 defeat comes at outside centre, where Belisario Agulla replaces Fred Burdon.
Hoping his side can kick on from a promising performance last time out, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “We missed out on a few points down at Saracens. We didn’t get the rub of the green from the referee, but we’ve got to look at ourselves and make sure we’re accurate about our own business.
“For large parts of the game we were, but just going into that critical area we didn’t quite nail it. That’s what we’ve been talking about this week, and what we’ve been trying to sort out on the training field. As much as we got close we didn’t have the accuracy to get over the line sometimes.”
Friday’s match forms the middle of a three-game run against the top teams in the Premiership, with in-form Wasps topping the division’s try count.
Richards said: “Wasps are no slouches, and their try-count is huge each game this season. They’ve got a lot of line-breakers and it does make a big difference, hence why they’re in that top two or three.
“They score a lot of tries. Defensively they leak a lot of points, but at the same time their objective each game is to outscore the opposition, and score as many points as they possibly can. They’re doing that at this moment in time.
“They’re a good side packed with stars from all over the place. They’ll be a difficult nut to crack but, having said that, we’re pretty confident in the way we’re playing at the moment. We’re playing good rugby and enjoying ourselves as well. We’re on the up, which is nice.”
Going into the game placed ninth in the table and having already won as many games as they did over the whole of the last league season, Richards added: “We’re a bit disappointed in some respects.
“We thought we could have got something out of last weekend’s game at Saracens, and there were a couple of results earlier in the season we felt we could have got something out of as well. Another five, six points and we’d have felt a little bit more in tune with where we feel we are.
“But it’s not about what’s happened, it’s about what’s going to happen over the next six months. We’re on the up, we’re improving, we’re shaping and playing some good rugby. For us it starts this Friday against Wasps.
“We’re going to go out there, give it our all and see what happens. We have the best home crowd around, we are playing with lots of ambition and this is a game everyone is really looking forward to.”
Thomas Young is set to make his 50th Wasps appearance on Friday night, sliding across to start at six, Nathan Hughes remains at eight and Guy Thompson comes into the starting side at seven, with Ashley Johnson primed to make an impact from the bench in the front or the back row. The front row remains unchanged, with Matt Symons returning to fitness to partner James Gaskell in the second row.
The team sees three changes in the backline from the side that beat Bath at the Ricoh Arena last weekend, with Josh Bassett, Kyle Eastmond and Dan Robson all set to start as Wasps travel to Newcastle.
Director of Rugby Dai Young said “The Christmas period is always a busy one and we’ve had two tight turnarounds ahead of what will be a big challenge for us on Friday night.
“It’s a massive game for us. If you want to be achieving you have to be winning these kinds of games. It’s never easy to pick up away wins, especially somewhere like Newcastle, but you have to beat sides below you if you want to be in there at the end of the season. Newcastle have taken a few sides by surprise this season with their determination to play an expansive game of rugby but we had sight of them early on in this campaign and experienced first-hand just how dangerous they can be.
“Although we won that game at the Ricoh Arena in October, the scoreline flattered us and if we let the Falcons dominate possession like they did that day, we will be in for a very tough evening.”
Form: Newcastle Falcons have won two of their last three matches in the Premiership whilst at Kingston Park they have obtained back-to-back victories over Harlequins and Lyon in the European Challenge Cup, scoring six tries in each game. Wasps only loss in their last five Premiership encounters was at Gloucester in round 8. Wasps have scored 12 more tries that any other side in the competition but four teams have conceded fewer tries. Wasps have won only once on the road in any competition since September, 26-12 at Worcester in round 10. Wasps are unbeaten in their last eight fixtures with the Falcons since Newcastle’s 14-10 victory at Adams Park in May 2012, although the two clubs did play out a 23-all draw at Kingston Park in February 2015.
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Belisario Agulla, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Opeti Fonua, 7 Mark Wilson (c), 6 Ally Hogg, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 David Wilson, 19 Tyrone Holmes, 20 Will Welch, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Dominic Waldouck
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Thomas Young, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan (c)
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Guy Armitage
Date: Friday, December 30
Venue: Kingston Park
Time: 19:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell, Greg MacDonald
TMO: Stuart Terheege