Newcastle Falcons welcome international duo Kieran Brookes and Josh Furno back to their starting line-up this week as they go in search of back-to-back home wins in the Premiership on Friday against Wasps.
Looking to bounce back from a disappointing trip to Exeter last weekend director of rugby Dean Richards has made carefully considered changes as he and his coaching staff look to take on an in form Wasps side and close down the gap to the tight knit group that occupy the Premiership’s mid-table.
In the back line, Alex Tait will be aiming to provide an assured presence at full-back while the only other change for Falcons backs sees Noah Cato make a welcome return from injury, replacing Alesana Tuilagi on the left wing.
Remaining in situ, Sinoti Sinoti will be looking to add to his try scoring tally from the right wing, Adam Powell and Juan Pablo Socino retain the 13 and 12 shirts respectively, while Mike Blair and Tom Catterick start at 9 and 10 for the seventh time this season.
In the forwards, the front and second row undergo an overhaul with Rob Hawkins stepping up in place of Scott Lawson, who misses out through injury, and Kieran Brookes returning from his England commitments for Juan Pablo Orlandi. Rob Vickers however provides continuity as he remains at loose head.
The second row sees the returnee theme continue as Josh Furno and Dom Barrow take the starting berths, the former available again following two weeks away with Italy, while Barrow continues to progress on his return from injury.
A stable back row once again sees the in-form trio of Mark Wilson, captain Will Welch and Ally Hogg line up at blindside flanker, openside flanker and number eight respectively.
Meanwhile, Matt Mullan again leads Wasps in the absence of James Haskell, who remains with England, while Welsh lock Bradley Davies and Italian centre Andrea Masi both feature in Wasps' matchday squad.
Ashley Johnson returns to the back-row following his three week suspension for tackling a player in the air, and will line-up alongside Thomas Young and Sunday’s man of the match Nathan Hughes. There are also starts this weekend for Sailosi Tagicakibau on the left wing and Carlo Festuccia at hooker.
Following Wasps bonus point win against Harlequins at the Ricoh Arena last Sunday, Dai Young says the focus ahead of the trip to Newcastle has been on backing up the performance away from home:
“We need to take our home performances on the road. We’ve had a couple of big away wins in the Aviva Premiership and the European Champions Cup, but we haven’t been consistent in our away performances this season.
“If we want to achieve things this season, we have to match our away performances with our home performances.
“We know how tough an opposition the Falcons will be under the floodlights at Kingston Park on Friday. They seem to be playing more rugby now than they were at the start of the season. Obviously they’ve grown in confidence as they’ve picked up some decent wins.
“For us it’s a massive game. There are no easy games in the Aviva Premiership and winning away from home is always really difficult, but if you have ambitions to be in the top six, you have to beat teams which are down the bottom of the table. We need to win this match if we want to become one of the top teams."
Form: Wasps have won four of their last five league games, while 11th placed Newcastle have won just once in their last six. Wasps also hold the historical advantage over their hosts too, having won the last three encounters between the teams, including the 35-18 victory in September.
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Sinoti Sinoti, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Noah Cato, 10 Tom Catterick, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Josh Furno, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Ruki Tipuna, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Gonzalo Tiesi
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 James Downey, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan (c)
Replacements: 16 Edd Shervington, 17 John Yapp, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Tom Bliss, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Andrea Masi
Date: Friday, February 20
Venue: Kingston Park, Newcastle
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Andy Watson
TMO: Sean Davey