Preview: Exeter v Newcastle

Date published: March 11 2016

Exeter welcome Henry Slade back for the first time since early December when he starts against Newcastle Falcons in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday.

The England international has not figured for the Devon club since breaking his leg and damaging ankle ligaments in Exeter’s impressive away win at Wasps. 

However, the 22-year-old playmaker has worked tirelessly to return to full fitness and Rob Baxter has wasted little time in recalling the Plymouth-born back to his starting line-up. 

Slade is one of seven changes the Chiefs have made to their side that went down 31-27 at Leicester Tigers last Sunday. 

He comes into a back division that includes Will Chudley returning at scrum-half and Olly Woodburn coming in on the right wing. 

Up front, a new-look front-row is held together by skipper Jack Yeandle, who will have Ben Moon and Harry Williams either side of him; lock Lewis Stevenson makes his first start since re-joining the club last month and Thomas Waldrom (pictured) is back at number eight having been rested for last weekend’s trip to his former club. 

With Slade back and Dave Ewers and Luke Cowan-Dickie having also returned to competitive action recently, Baxter said this week that the walking wounded list at Sandy Park is easing all the time and he hopes to have both Damian Welch and Mitch Lees back in the fray in the not too distant future. 

"If we want to be a team that’s fighting for first and second place in the Premiership and a team is making the longest trip in the Premiership to you and are at the wrong end of the table, you have to expect to win," said Baxter.

"If you are genuinely expected to be a first or second ranked side, these kind of become must-win games and that is no disrespect to Newcastle. 

"Everyone is aware that Newcastle are winning games of rugby now, they are nobody’s mugs and it is going to be a tough game, but we know it is going to be tough and we have to face up to the fact it will be a tough game, and we have to come out on top of them and force the win, whatever happens."

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons will welcome back Sinoti Sinoti and Mike Delany to their starting XV as part of a number of changes across the team.

Having enjoyed a 23 minute spell against Gloucester in round 14, Sinoti makes his first Falcons start of the season since the opening game against the same opposition back in October while Delany’s start is his first involvement since the away game against Sale in November.

The Kiwi fly-half was forced from the field with a knee injury 18 minutes into that fixture, but is now fully recovered and ready to build on an impressive start to his Falcons career, that saw him score 37 points in five games.

Away from the returnee’s, tight head prop Mike Cusack makes his first start for the club, since joining from Glasgow Warriors on loan and will pack down alongside Alex Rogers and George McGuigan.

Behind the front row, former England international Mourtiz Botha and Calum Green form up in the second, while Mark Wilson drops back onto the blindside flank.

He joins Will Welch and Nili Latu in the back row, with the club captain returning to the openside and the former Tonga captain switching to number eight.

Joining Sinoti in a refreshed back line, Giamba Venditti takes to the right wing as Alex Tait moves to full back and Juan Pablo Socino takes over the inside centre position.

Chris Harris retains the number 13 shirt outside the Argentine international, while Sonatane Takulua starts at scrum half.

On the replacements bench, the Falcons have opted for experienced heads as the look to challenge the Chiefs, with Scott Lawson, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Ally Hogg and Andy Goode all bringing considerable knowledge from club and international level.

They are joined by further experience in the shape of Richard Mayhew and Michael Young while Ben Harris and Tom Penny earn chances for further Aviva Premiership action in the case of the young back and a first league appearance in the case of the Huddersfield born prop.

Form: Exeter Chiefs have scored more tries than any other side in the Premriship this season and have only once failed to secure a league point from a match in the competition since April 2014. Newcastle Falcons have slipped to successive defeats, at Gloucester and at home to Worcester. Falcons, along with London Irish are the only side yet to have won on the road in the Premiership this season. The two clubs have met on nine previous occasions in Premiership Rugby with Newcastle’s only victory being 29-24 at Kingston Park in October 2014. The Falcons have been defeated in all six previous visits to Sandy Park in all tournaments. 

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 
8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Lewis Stevenson, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione 17 Alec Hepburn 18 Carl Rimmer 19 Ollie Atkins 20 Dave Ewers 21 Dave Lewis 22 Will Hooley 23 Max Bodilly

Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Giamba Venditti, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Callum Green, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Alex Rogers.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Richard Mayhew, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Michael Young, 22 Andy Goode, 23 Tom Penny

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell, Kelvin Stewart
TMO: David Rose