Carlo del Fava is not expecting a camera-shy performance from Newcastle Falcons when Bath visit Kingston Park for this evening’s televised encounter.
The Aviva Premiership opener will be the first English game to be shown live on the new BT Sport channel and, with the eyes of the country upon them, the Italian lock-forward is confident his team can live up to the occasion.
The 32-year-old partners Scott MacLeod in an experienced second-row boasting 78 caps between them, stating: “There is a good buzz around the camp, and the boys have been excited about this game for a while now.
“In terms of the TV, with being in the Championship last season you kind of get forgotten about until the play-offs by people outside the region. But obviously the Premiership has a greater national profile, and there is more interest around it.
“From my point of view it is just another game, and the fact it is on TV does not make a huge difference. You see all the cameras and equipment when you warm up, but it is soon out of your mind and not something we tend to think about.”
Del Fava forms part of a pack without captain Will Welch, the flanker who was rated touch and go after coming off in last Friday’s friendly against Edinburgh with a back niggle. More serious is the absence of Scott Lawson, with the Scotland hooker understood to be facing a lay-off of up to two months with a hand problem.
Matt Thompson starts in his place against Bath, loose-head prop Franck Montanella becoming the first ever French player to represent the Falcons on the Premiership stage.
Ally Hogg skippers the side from No 8, with debutant Dom Barrow packing down on the blind-side flank.
Unusually, the two clubs have already faced each other in pre-season, playing out an entertaining 21-21 draw in the French town of Beziers – the match having been arranged before the Premiership fixture list was drawn up. Del Fava said: “I don’t think Bath showed their hand over in France, but we have seen their matches against Ospreys and Dragons since then.
“They showed much more of their mauling game in both of those, and tonight will be a completely different challenge to what we faced when we met them in Beziers.
“There will be more motivation from them to come and try a few things, so from the Newcastle perspective we just have to front up and meet that challenge.
“Bath have a great driving game which is pretty well established, and to me it looks like that is how they want to set up.
“They have some big heavy boys in the pack, lots of experience, and I think they are going to do really well this year. They are well coached, and it is a great opener for us.”
Former Newcastle director of rugby Gary Gold is the man tasked with leading the West Country outfit, ex-Falcons defence coach Mike Ford alongside him in a squad containing a host of familiar faces.
South Shields’ Davey Wilson starts at tighthead prop, with former Kingston Park favourite Peter Stringer at scrum-half and one-time Falcons’ triallist Semesa Rokoduguni on the wing.
Three more Newcastle old-boys lie in wait on the bench, with Tom Biggs, Ross Batty and Micky Young all involved.
Confident the Falcons can outlast this evening’s visitors, Del Fava said: “We are focused, and have the urgency needed to start the season. It has been a hard summer followed by games which went well against Bath and Connacht, although we did receive a wake-up call against Edinburgh a week ago in our final warm-up because of the increased pace and physicality.
“We have learnt from that and knuckled down in training, and the guys are really just looking forward now to the proper stuff starting.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, D Barnes, J Helleur, T Catterick, P Godman, M Blair; F Montanella, M Thompson, K Brookes, C del Fava, S MacLeod, D Barrow, A Saull, A Hogg (captain). Replacements: R Vickers, S Wilson, G Strain, M Wilson, C York, W Fury, J Hodgson, A Powell.
BATH: A Watson, S Rokoduguni, J Joseph, K Eastmond, M Banahan, G Ford, P Stringer; P James, R Webber, D Wilson, S Hooper (captain), D Attwood, M Garvey, M Gilbert, L Houston. Replacements: R Batty, N Catt, A Perenise, D Day, A Fa’osiliva, M Young, G Henson, T Biggs.
Referee: W Barnes