FALCONS boss John Fletcher is ready to move into the transfer market to replace Matt Burke and Mark Mayerhofler if Newcastle’s injury crisis deepens.
As Newcastle welcome back World Cup finalist Toby Flood at fly-half for tomorrow’s EDF Energy Cup trip to Gloucester, Fletcher revealed his willingness to bolster the Falcons squad after a knee injury ruled out Burke for the rest of the season – and possibly for good – but there will be no panic buying.
Mayerhofler has already played his last game for the Falcons. The All Black centre was due to leave the club after next week’s game against Newport after agreeing to stay on as cover for the duration of the World Cup, but a shoulder injury means there will be no more appearances in a Falcons shirt.
Mayherhofler looks set to retire from playing to pursue a new career in computers.
Newcastle could have done with including him in their calculations for this weekend and next, especially as Jonny Wilkinson and Mathew Tait have both returned from the World Cup with minor knocks which rule them out of the trip to Gloucester.
But Flood is okay and is happy to pull on the 10 shirt which sees Jones shift one place to inside centre for Joe Shaw, who misses the game due to illness.
The injury to Burke means Tom May will be at full-back as Ollie Phillips comes on to the right wing and Hall Charlton gets a first run-out of the season at scrum-half.
In the front row a minor calf problem rules out Jon Golding as All Black Joe McDonnell returns to skipper the side from loose head prop, the only other change to the side coming at tight head where David Wilson takes the place of Micky Ward.
While May is named in the number 15 shirt, there could be a debut for England Under-19 international Alex Tait, whose elder brother Mathew may end up being Newcastle’s long-term replacement for Burke at full-back.
“I need to sit down and have a conversation with Burkey, but ultimately we will do the best thing by the player as we always do,” said Fletcher. “We have to get on with it in the meantime because what is certain is that Matt won’t play again this season so this weekend we have Tom May at full-back plus we have a few other options as we move forward.
“I’ve already had the discussion with Taity and he is one of a number of options at full-back for both club and country now, but then his younger brother Alex is also an option after playing full-back throughout the England age group system.
“There are one or two other players in our squad who could make that switch and then beyond that you’re looking to bring someone in from outside.
“That is always an option, but what I won’t do is make a panic buy. We look at players every day in all positions from all over the world, that is why we have extensive networks of scouts in both hemispheres.
“We will now take time to think and assess what our options are, but we are always looking to improve the squad in every position, including full-back.”
As Newcastle move into a four-week period of EDF and European Challenge Cup-ties, Fletcher hopes his World Cup trio will be back in action quite quickly – Flood tomorrow with Wilkinson and Tait possibly returning at home against Newport next week.
“Maybe if Mark Mayerhofler and Matt Burke were around this weekend we could have afforded to give Toby a week off, but then to be fair the only reason that Jonny Wilkinson and Mathew Tait aren’t involved this weekend is because they’re carrying slight knocks,” he said.
“Tait just has a bit of swelling on his knee and is generally a bit sore, but he should be okay to be involved against the Dragons next week hopefully along with Jonny.
“Both of them will be back in some form of training on Monday. Jonny’s precautionary scan came back fine – it was just a whack on his ankle and we don’t anticipate any major problems with it.
“The physios will give it a fancy name, but basically it’s just a twisted ankle. Taity, I would say, will definitely be involved next week and Jonny should be close.”
Frankly, Newcastle need the trio, having suffered a crippling run of injuries, leaving a casualty which reads: Andy Buist (shoulder), Ben Woods (hand), Ross Beattie (shoulder), Phil Dowson (shoulder), Jonny Wilkinson (ankle), Mathew Tait (knee) Jamie Noon (knee), James Hoyle (hip), Mark Mayerhofler (shoulder), Matthew Burke (knee), Joe Shaw (illness), Jon Golding (calf), and Lee Dickson (arm).
“We have had a bad run,” conceded Fletcher, “which isn’t an excuse but simply a fact when you are without your captain in Phil Dowson, then the likes of Ben Woods, Mark Mayerhofler, Jamie Noon, Andy Buist and a load of others.
“We don’t have a huge squad in terms of experience, but what it does is give opportunities for some of our exciting young players like Tim Visser and Alex Tait to get a taste of first-team rugby.”