Preview: Newcastle v Sale

Date published: May 6 2016

Newcastle Falcons head coach John Wells has made seven changes to his starting XV for Saturday's clash with Sale Sharks at Kingston Park.

Top try-scorer Nili Latu returns to captain the team at number eight as Will Welch misses out through injury.

Juan Pablo Socino replaces Adam Powell at inside centre, Rob Hawkins earning a start at hooker in his final professional game before retiring to pursue a career with the Police. 

Mike Cusack joins him in the front-row in his last outing for the club following his loan move from Glasgow, Mike Delany coming in at fly-half for Craig Willis. 

The only other changes come in the second-row where Calum Green comes in for Mouritz Botha and Will Witty replaces Sean Robinson, who this week underwent a shoulder operation.

With Newcastle's Premiership status having been cemented last weekend, Wells said: “This season has been tough and challenging. Last week was a watershed in terms of clearing things up, and in some respects that has taken the pressure off this game.

"However, that is not to say we aren’t absolutely committed to going out there on Saturday and beating Sale Sharks on our own patch.

“We want to end this one on a high by beating Sale and they are a brilliant example for us to look at. They are not full of world stars but they work incredibly hard for each other, they are challenging for Champions Cup qualification and they have something to play for. We have pride, and just the simple fact of wanting to put in a good home performance in front of our own fans.”

Asked if supporters can expect to see an end-of-season free-for-all, Wells said: “There are two ways of answering that question. There is the obvious relief of knowing where we are going to be playing our rugby next season, so in that sense there is not the pressure of it being a must-win game. 

"But the danger is that the game gets fast, loose and messy, and I don’t think either side will want that.

“If Sale are chasing the points they will want to keep some structure, and for us to stand the best chance of winning we need to keep a certain amount of structure to what we do. 

"If the ball starts to flash and fly around all over the place it will end up on the floor being hacked downfield, and you just don’t know who is going to end up being on the end of things like that. The best thing is that if both sides are serious about getting the win, there should be some structure and organisation to the performances.

“Sale’s director of rugby Steve Diamond is pretty hard-nosed and I’d be very surprised if they weren’t coming here to win the game. As things stand they are still in with a chance of Champions Cup qualification, they have a big opportunity but we’ll have to see how they play.”

On the season as a whole, the head coach added: “It was tough having so many injuries early on and so many guys coming back from the World Cup. The reality is that there tends to be a drop-off after a World Cup when you have been away with an international team for most of the previous five months. 

"It is hard, and people need to understand that, but we dug ourselves out of that phase by beating some good sides. We then got ourselves into a position we didn’t want to be by losing to some of the teams around us, but by hook or by crook we have got ourselves out of it and we now know where we are for next season.

“I think everybody is looking forward to a break. It has been long, intense and the structure of this season has tested the strength and morale of squads up and down the league. It has been one of those grind-it-out seasons – a big learning curve, even for guys who have been coaching for 20 years in this division.

“Looking further ahead we have had a sit-down and a look at this season to see what has worked, what hasn’t and how we can make those things better next year. After this game we can then start looking forward to our new arrivals joining us and making things work from there.”

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond has opted to make one change to his starting XV, with Eifion Lewis-Roberts coming in to replace Ross Harrison. 

Danny Cipriani, Tommy Taylor, Vadim Cobilas are set to make their final starts for the club. Mark Easter and Joe Ford are also set to play their final games for the club, if called upon from the replacements bench.

A victory could see Sale Sharks finish as high as fifth in the league table providing Northampton and Harlequins lose.

Diamond said: “The fact they've (Newcastle) got nothing to play for means nothing to us. 

"We've got to play well, and prepare well. We've got to go up there and have a good crack at winning the game. We can't worry about the other teams. 

"We have a job to do. We've got to be positive and believe in what we're doing. We'll have a fierce battle against Newcastle, but if they do that, we'll stand a good chance of the victory."

Form: Newcastle Falcons only win in the last seven rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby was 13-6 at home to London Irish on 17th April. The Falcons have not tallied a try bonus point in the tournament since Harlequins visited Kingston Park in round 22 last year. A victory could see Sale Sharks finish as high as fifth in the league table providing Northampton and Harlequins lose. The Sharks only win in their last four first team matches was 29-17 at home to Bath in round 20 of Aviva Premiership Rugby. Sale are unbeaten in their last four Premiership Rugby encounters with the Falcons since Newcastle’s 15-14 victory at AJ Bell Stadium in September 2013.

The teams:

Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu (c), 7 Dan Temm, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Mike Cusack, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alex Rogers, 18 Taione Vea, 19 Kane Thompson, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Belisario Agulla

Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Will Addison, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Nev Edwards, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 TJ Ioane 7 David Seymour (c), 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts 
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Mark Easter, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mark Jennings

Date: Saturday, May 7
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 15:30 BST (14:30 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, John Meredith
TMO: Graham Hughes