Peter Russell is hoping fresh legs can carry Newcastle Falcons home against a Gloucester side playing their third game inside a week.
The Cherry and Whites, thrashed at Northampton in last weekend’s LV= Cup opener, were 40-5 winners over Japan in Tuesday’s friendly, and today face a Falcons side with plenty in the tank after juggling their resources during the Cup fortnight.
“Playing midweek won’t have helped them, even though they had a reasonable result in beating Japan,” said Russell, the head coach who presides over a Newcastle team showing eight changes from the one which defeated London Irish on Sunday.
“It makes you wonder what their priorities are when they played such a strong side against a weakened Japan, and having lost at Northampton last weekend they will be wanting to get some momentum.”
Mike Tindall and Matt Cox are the only men to be starting all three of Gloucester’s games, although a further six of this afternoon’s XV are backing up after starting on Tuesday.
Newcastle’s side, after a week of experimentation, has returned to something much nearer their Premiership model, Russell revealing: “The selection is more based around wanting to build for when we play Northampton next weekend.
“That is in combination with giving some of the younger guys a run and showing that what they are doing in training is worthwhile, but it is all about the Premiership.
“The LV= Cup is a good competition for giving guys a chance. It has not come at a bad time for us with having so many injuries in certain positions, and those players are now slowly coming back.
“It is all building up to the league games before Christmas that we need to polish off, and looking to build some momentum going into the new year.”
The Falcons’ last LV= Cup meeting with Gloucester was a painful 34-7 mauling in the 2011 final, although Newcastle’s 14-year wait for a victory at Kingsholm finally came to an end last year during their ill-fated attempt to escape relegation under Gary Gold. Looking for improvements on Sunday’s 29-21 triumph over the Exiles, Russell said: “It was a good game in that we won, but it was by no means a polished performance.
“We had plenty left in the tank after the final whistle, and if we are honest it was a fairly depleted London Irish side that we should have skinned.
“Having the confidence to move the ball into the space we produced is one area for improvement, and taking our opportunities.
“Over the last couple of weeks we are slowly getting there, and as we build up to our league game at Northampton I want to make sure there is a little bit more gloss and momentum in our side.”
Five of Newcastle’s eight changes are made in the pack, where Rob Vickers and Scott Wilson anchor a scrum which sees Dom Barrow, Carlo del Fava and Ally Hogg slotting in.
George McGuigan continues at hooker with Scott Lawson away on international duty, Russell stating: “It doesn’t help, but that is what we are here for. Seeing our players selected for their country is an honour for us, just as it is for them.”
The back line shows only three changes as Alex Tait, Noah Cato and Adam Powell return, Joel Hodgson once again overlooked at fly-half as the 21-year-old is farmed out to Rotherham on loan.
“Gloucester at the moment seem like a club on a little bit of a low ebb,” said Russell, with the Cherry and Whites having lost their last four competitive games.
“We want to strike against them, and that is the way we see it. They have had to play three games inside a week with hosting Japan midweek, and even though you have a squad system for those busy times it still takes a lot out of the players.”
Expecting an open game, he added: “Gloucester play with quite a bit of width.
“They rely on plenty of vigour around the forward pack, and then Freddie Burns at fly-half dictates a lot of what happens on the back of that.
“They have got a reasonable back-field who like to run the ball from anywhere with the likes of Jonny May, and we have got to be very streetwise in how we approach it.
“This is not a festival game, it is one we need to use to build some momentum as we look to Northampton.”
With fellow Kiwi Richard Mayhew back in the fold following a successful recovery from a foot injury, Russell said: “Richard brings that hard-nosed edge that we have probably been lacking.
“He showed that last weekend, and we will look to emulate what we tried to do against London Irish and take some valid points away from the day.”
Expecting a raucous reception at a West Country venue famed for hostility, he added: “I have heard the banter during the week about the Shed, and the noise that comes out of there.
“That is great and it is all part of the game, but if we can nullify Gloucester at the start we can use it to our own advantage when they begin to turn on the their own players.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, D Barnes, A Powell, R Shortland, R Clegg, W Fury; R Vickers, G McGuigan, S Wilson, C del Fava, D Barrow, R Mayhew, W Welch (captain), A Hogg. Replacements: K Brookes, G Strain, G Shiells, S MacLeod, M Wilson, M Blair, Z Kibirige, P Godman.
GLOUCESTER: M Thomas, J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall, R Mills, J May, F Burns, D Robson; N Wood, H Edmonds, S Knight, E Stooke, T Savage (captain), R Moriarty, A Hazell, M Cox. Replacements: D George, Y Thomas, R Harden, W James, L Ludlow, J Cowan, B Burns, R Cook.
Referee: G Morris (Wales). Kick-off: 4.30pm.