Dean Richards expects Newcastle Falcons lock-forward Fraser McKenzie to be fit for Sunday’s trip to Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens.
The Scotsman left the field during the second half of last weekend’s 13-11 victory over London Irish after being felled by serial offender Chris Hala’ufia, but his director of rugby expects to have the former Sale Shark available for Newcastle’s first ever visit to Allianz Park.
“Fraser took a bit of a whack on Sunday and came off, but he is looking a lot better and should hopefully be around this weekend,” said Richards, who also delivered positive news on back-row pair Richard Mayhew and Will Welch.
“Richard played well for the Development Team on Monday against Worcester after missing the first two months of the season, and we are pleased he has returned to fitness.
“Will came back last weekend from the bench and has had no reaction to the injury which had kept him out for a couple of weeks, which is another bonus for us.
“Franck Montanella in the front-row still has a week or two to go, as does Andy Saull in the back-row, but we are gradually getting a few back.”
Travelling to a Saracens side beaten for the first time last week at Northampton, Richards was quick to talk up the prowess of the free-spending Londoners. He said: “Saracens have bought a very good squad within the salary cap.
“They have done extremely well to recruit the players they have, and the depth they have got means they can slot people in.”
That depth will be tested to the full on Sunday, with no less than five of their stars away on England duty.
Centre Joel Tomkins has become the latest addition to that group in making his international debut against Australia tomorrow, joining club-mates Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy.
“They have got key individuals away with England, and some out through injury,” said Richards, with former England fly-half Charlie Hodgson among the players battling their way back to fitness.
“Nobody seems to be giving us a chance, and that is absolutely fantastic because we will just go down there and enjoy ourselves.”
Rather than reading too much into Saracens’ 41-20 loss at Northampton last weekend, the Falcons boss said: “They play totally differently at home on their own pitch to how they do on the road.
“Their arousal levels seem to be totally different, and we are not putting too much stock on last week because Northampton seem to be a bit of a bogey side for them.
“Obviously we have watched it and taken from it what we can, but to all intents and purposes our plan remains the same.”
That plan has been shaped, in part, by a pair of former Saracens in the Newcastle squad, long-time club men Adam Powell and Andy Saull having this year made the move to the North East.
Richards said: “It is always useful to have people on board who have been at opposition teams.
“They can give you an insight into their character, style of play and all the rest of it, but what that doesn’t take into account is what Saracens are thinking about us, and what plans they have in place.
“Just as we are doing to them, they will try to exploit us in certain areas, but having Adam and Andy around has been a benefit in terms of offering a bit of a glimpse into certain aspects.”
Keen to improve on last week’s performance despite claiming their third league win in just six games, he added: “Against London Irish we didn’t play well, but we still won. You can take positives from that, but we just want to improve upon the way we played.
“It is all about getting our processes right, understanding how we want to play and executing it properly. We did not do that particularly well.”