Preview: Newcastle Falcons v Saracens

Date published: March 3 2017

Mark Wilson returns for Newcastle Falcons when they Saracens at Kingston Park Stadium.

The back-row forward had been an ever-present for the Falcons up until last weekend, playing every minute of every league fixture this season before having to withdraw from the trip to Exeter Chiefs through illness.

He returns in a pack showing three changes as Newcastle go for a third successive Premiership home win, Kyle Cooper and Jon Welsh returning in the front row as Ben Sowrey and Scott Wilson make way.

The only other change to the Falcons line-up sees Juan Pablo Socino returning at inside centre, director of rugby Dean Richards confident his side can prove a match for the champions.

He said: “Saracens play a very different style of rugby to Exeter, but what they both do is they have a very clear game plan which they are adept at executing right to the Ninth degree.

“That’s going to be the key for us this weekend, understanding exactly what they are about, how they play, what their game plan is and then executing our own game plan equally as well as they do. If we can do that then we stand a really good chance of coming away with the win.”

Full of respect for Saracens but adamant the Londoners are beatable, he added: “They play to a very prescriptive pattern, they will have both Vunipola brothers involved as we understand it and also the likes of Schalk Burger, Brad Barritt, Chris Ashton and all those boys.

“They have a team of stars, which is great, and they’ve got to come up here. It’s a difficult place to come here these days because we’re on fire at home, we’re playing well and the boys will be smarting from the defeat at Exeter last weekend.

“They are a side who play a very structured game, they understand how they play and there are little nuances within that which we are looking at to try and exploit. That’s the way it is, and it’s those small details which make a massive difference in the modern game. If they come off we can come away with the win, but it will be pretty close whatever happens.”

Meanwhile, Billy Vunipola will start for Saracens in their clash Newcastle Falcons.

The 24-year-old, capped 32 times by England, has been out of action since November with a knee injury and will start at number eight for Saracens. Billy is joined by his older brother Mako Vunipola in the starting XV with the England prop named to start in the front-row alongside Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo.

Elsewhere in the pack, Jim Hamilton continues at the heart of the Saracens engine room alongside Michael Rhodes, with the South African forward set to make his 50th appearance for the club.

In the back row, Billy Vunipola comes into the side at number eight with Jackson Wray shifting to blindside flanker and after his Man of the Match performance against Sale Sharks, Joel Conlon continues at openside flanker. On the bench, Kelly Brown will make his 150th Saracens appearance if featured.

In the backs, Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half) continues to partner Alex Lozowski (fly-half) in the halves, whilst Brad Barritt skippers the side from inside centre alongside Marcelo Bosch in the midfield.

Scotland flyer Sean Maitland has recovered from a rib-injury sustained in Saracens’ defeat to Gloucester to take his place on the left wing and he is joined by fellow Scot Duncan Taylor (full-back) and Chris Ashton (right wing) in the Sarries back three.

Form: Newcastle Falcons last four matches in Premiership Rugby have all gone in favour of the home side, whilst the Falcons only defeat at Kingston Park in the tournament since November was 30-34 to Wasps in round 12. Saracens victory over Sale at Allianz Park on Saturday ended a three game winless run in Premiership Rugby. Saracens have won only once away from home in the tournaments since November: 16-12 at Leicester on New Year’s Day. Saracens have won their last sixteen fixtures against Newcastle in all tournaments since the Falcons 13-9 win at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2009.

The teams:

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Ben Harris, 18 David Wilson, 19 Ally Hogg, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Chris Harris

Saracens: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Joel Conlon, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Nathan Earle

Date: Sunday, March 5
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Stuart Terheege