JONNY Wilkinson will tomorrow go head-to-head with London Wasps young gun Danny Cipriani, who scored two tries in last week’s 35-12 league win over the Falcons.
Wasps’ head coach Shaun Edwards has confirmed that Cipriani will start at No 10 as Falcons return to the Madejski Stadium for a winner-takes-all EDF Energy Cup clash.
“It’s a big challenge for Danny, playing against the incumbent England fly-half,” said Edwards. “Danny realises he has to be at his absolute best to compete at that level and be successful, both in attack and defence.”
With Newcastle fielding a back line which includes Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Mathew Tait and a fourth England star in Jamie Noon, the London side are likely to find themselves in a battle.
Falcons coaching and technical director Steve Bates said: “What we learned from last weekend’s league match is that Wasps are a very good side, but they are beatable.
“Where we went wrong last week was in making a number of personal errors and we handed them some easy tries.
“We put them under pressure in certain areas of the game, scored two very good tries and if we’d kept the ball for longer, it would have been a very close scoreline.
“The issues that went wrong last weekend are fairly straightforward ones to address, so we have been working hard this week on those areas and it will be a different game this weekend.”
All the Falcons changes come in the backs, the return of Wilkinson and Flood bringing a back line reshuffle as Ollie Phillips and Steve Jones drop out of the match-day 22.
Wilkinson lines up at fly-half with Flood at inside centre, while Noon switches to outside centre as Tait drops back to full-back and Tom May moves up to the right wing.
“The selection for this match, especially in the backs, gets people in to positions where they feel most comfortable,” said Bates. “The players who drop out of the side for this game have done well this season, but adding Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood to any team is obviously going to add a lot of edge to our play.
“Switching Tom May back to the wing gives us a chance to see him in the position where he started the season on fire with a number of tries.
“We shall possibly see the best of him in attack because that role allows him to pop up more in the positions where he is a scoring threat.
“Moving Mathew Tait to full-back gives us a bit more balance with his pace and his kicking game, which is very underrated by some people outside of this club and I’m just looking forward to seeing this side in operation.
“Cup rugby is always a very exciting proposition and with the semi-finals being at the Millennium Stadium it’s now a chance for us to be involved in a huge occasion and a potential entry route in to the Heineken Cup.”
Wasps expect to name England captain Phil Vickery in their starting line-up for the first time since the World Cup.
With Falcons’ All Black prop Carl Hayman set to make his debut from the bench and Tait at full back – the position England see him filling long-term – it promises to be a cracker as the winner will book their place in the semi-finals of the competition.
That is just two steps from qualifying for next season’s Heineken European Cup.