NEWCASTLE Falcons have made seven changes and a further two positional switches ahead of this afternoon’s British and Irish Cup visit of Connacht Eagles.
Newcastle are already ten points clear at the top of Pool C going into this afternoon’s penultimate round of matches and might not need to lift a finger to secure their quarter-final place should Newport fail to gain maximum points at home to Welsh neighbours Cross Keys.
Even if the Black and Ambers do secure all five points, that would leave the Falcons needing just a point to step into the last eight.
However, they may still need to win at Cross Keys a week today to ensure their quarter-final tie is played at Kingston Park.
With that in mind, director of rugby Dean Richards has fielded a fair handful of his senior stars, welcoming captain Will Welch back to the starting line-up after more than two months out with a back injury.
His return on the openside sees Richard Mayhew slide round to No 8 where Taiasina Tu’ifua drops out, the only other change to the pack being Scott MacLeod’s return from an ankle injury in the second-row.
A new-look halfback pairing sees Fijian Waisea Luveniyali outside of Welsh scrum-half Warren Fury, James Fitzpatrick beefing up the centres while Andy Higgins replaces Ryan Shortland out wide.
Richards’ continued selective use of teenage sensation Zach Kibirige sees the schoolboy missing from the side as Tom Catterick slots in at fullback, Luke Fielden reverting to Kibirige’s vacated perch out on the right wing.
Returning lock MacLeod said: “The way we have started some matches this season has not been to the standard we would expect of ourselves and so the emphasis against Connacht is on that first 20 minutes.
“If we can get into it early doors and not give them a sniff then hopefully they will not stick with us and we should be blowing teams away.
“That 20 minutes is the hardest part of the game because they are going to be energetic and firing on absolutely all cylinders. How we impose ourselves on that period is the important thing.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Catterick, L Fielden, T Tu’ipulotu, J Fitzpatrick, A Higgins, W Luveniyali, W Fury; J Golding, R Vickers, O Tomaszczyk, C Del Fava, S MacLeod, M Wilson, W Welch (captain), R Mayhew. Replacements: M Mayhew, S Wilson, J Hudson, C York, R Lawson, J Hodgson, A Crockett.
CONNACHT EAGLES: S Macauley, M McCrea, T Leader, B Murphy, C Finn, J Carty, D Moore; R Ah You, A Flavin, JP Cooney, C Kindregan, D Gannon, TJ Anderson (captain), D Heffernan, A Conneely. Replacements: K O'Byrne, F Bealham, U Dillane, C Butterworth, M Walsh, M Fifita, F Gormley.
Referee: K White (Scotland)