FALCONS scrum-half James Grindal is banking on Newcastle’s “world-class” back line to turn the form book on its head at Saracens tomorrow.
Grindal believes Newcastle have the best three-quarter line in the Premiership but so far the dream team of Jonny Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Mathew Tait and Jamie Noon have flickered only fitfully.
To be fair, that line-up has only played three games together this season – and only one of those in the Premiership, and that was last week – while Matt Burke’s injury means that Newcastle have been unable to put out what many would consider their number one combination.
But four out of five for the second week running isn’t bad and Grindal dons the number nine shirt with the aim of giving that quartet as much good ball as he can as the Falcons bid to end third-top Saracens’s unbeaten run at Vicarage Road. “This is an exciting team to play for with a world class back line, the best in the league in my opinion,” said Grindal. “But first of all we need to win the ball and then we need to be streetwise and get around the pitch and contest the ball. We lacked a bit of doggedness like Gloucester last week and that affects the quality of the ball you can give the backs.
“The criticism of the forwards in the past may have been justified, but not this season. They have set their benchmark very high and every game they are improving. The line-out has been the best it’s been since I came here and the scrummage is certainly not going backwards and we’re starting to scare opponents.
“We’ve had a tough Christmas with Gloucester and Saracens, but they both play a type of rugby we aspire to and we’re trying, but not getting the results. We know Saracens have not lost at home this year so it’s going to be tough, but I really do think we can do it.”
Grindal concedes Newcastle simply haven’t produced the goods apart from the occasional flash of form, and he added: “We have had a tough run in the Premiership. It’s been a bit stop-start and it’s been hard to put a run together.
“Okay, we’ve lost the last two but the spirit is the camp is still good and positive. We just need to put together some results to climb up the league.
“We have world class players all over the team and we have no excuses for not geling together. Sometimes we click, sometimes we don’t and it’s down to the various factors on the day and I suppose that’s what makes rugby so interesting.” Newcastle have made just two changes with Grindal coming in for Lee Dickson at scrum-half and Brent Wilson replaces Geoff Parling on the blindside flank, while Saracens recall Kevin Yates, David Seymour and Paul Gustard in the forwards and Gordon Ross, Rodd Penney and Adam Powell in the backs.
Ben Skirving misses the game with a shoulder injury and Richard Hill, Nick Lloyd and Andy Farrell are rested. Head coach Alan Gaffney said: “We have to treat Newcastle with enormous respect. We know they have a real cutting edge in their side with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Matthew Tait, Jamie Noon and Toby Flood in the back line.”
SARACENS: B Russell, R Haughton, K Sorrell, A Powell, R Penney, G Ross, N de Kock (capt), K Yates, F Ongaro, C Johnston, H Vyvyan, C Jack, K Chesney, D Seymour, P Gustard. Reps: A Kyriacou, C Visagie, T Ryder, D Barrell, M Rauluni, G Jackson, K Ratuvou.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: M Tait, T May, J Noon (capt), T Flood, J Rudd, J Wilkinson, J Grindal, J Golding, A Long, C Hayman, A Perry, M Sorenson, B Wilson, B Woods, R Winter. Reps: M Thompson, D Wilson, S Tomes, G Parling, L Dickson, T Visser, O Phillips.