Newcastle Falcons will warm up for the new Aviva Premiership campaign with pre-season outings against Bayonne, Rotherham and Edinburgh.
Dean Richards’ side will travel to the Basque country on Thursday August 7 for the first of three scheduled fixtures, taking on Bayonne at their Stade Jean Dauger home in an 8pm French time kick-off (7pm UK time).
Championship semi-finalists Rotherham will visit Kingston Park for a 3pm start on Saturday August 23 in the Falcons’ only home game of the summer, before finishing their pre-season with a trip to Hawick on Friday August 29.
The Scottish border town, in a repeat of last year’s successful venture, will see Newcastle facing up against Alan Solomons’ Edinburgh side in a 7.45pm kick-off, before the Falcons open their Premiership account the weekend after.
The league fixtures will be announced tomorrow from London’s BT Tower, but a varied pre-season programme at least ensures last season’s second-bottom side have a thorough run-up to the competition.
In Bayonne they meet a club who narrowly escaped the drop from France’s top division last season, the Basque outfit home to stars including former New Zealand All Black Joe Rokocoko and ex-Australia lock Mark Chisholm.
Newcastle and Bayonne have never met before in competitive action, although the Falcons are not unaccustomed to pre-season dates in the south west of France after drawing with Bath last year in the town of Beziers.
Rotherham are then the visitors to Kingston Park in the only home game of the summer, a match which looks set to be the club’s first-ever full outing on their proposed synthetic pitch.
The Yorkshire club have enjoyed close links with the Falcons in recent years, Newcastle having recently swooped for their Argentinean points machine Juan Pablo Socino as well as sending a quartet of players in the opposite direction on dual-registration terms.
Rotherham’s last trip to Kingston Park ended in a 33-0 defeat as Richards’ side continued their march towards the RFU Championship title in October 2012, and Falcons’ season ticket holders are entitled to free entry for this year’s repeat.
Non-season ticket holders can take their place for £10 adults and £5 children, the same prices also applying to the 7.45pm kick-off against Edinburgh in Hawick.
A bumper crowd of over 4,000 was in attendance at Mansfield Park for the same fixture last summer, Edinburgh kicking five penalties on their way to a 15-5 triumph.
One Falcons player with extra cause to celebrate the Hawick date is Scott MacLeod, the former Scotland lock who is still a resident of the border town.
“Hopefully I can play in that one,” said the former Edinburgh, Scarlets and Kobe Steel lock.
“I was getting a lot of stick around the town last year because it wasn’t the best game, and wherever I went around Hawick everyone was stopping me and telling me how we should be playing.
“You cannot escape that in a small community, but Hawick is the home of rugby!”
Currently getting stuck into strength and conditioning work, he added: “Pre-season is what it is, and all about building for the year ahead.
“I get a wee bit more looked after because I am a skinny bloke, and I struggle getting weight on.
“This is the time of year for me to do that, and the first five-week block is all about the hard graft.
“My main focus is putting on some weight, and then I will plateau out from there.
“Pre-seasons are pretty much the same now as they were when I started.
“It is not nice, in all honesty, but it has got to be done.
“You know you are getting pushed to your absolute limit, and I hate that Town Moor hill with a passion.
“The boys did 18 shuttles of 160 metres in less than 30 seconds each the other day, and anybody is going to be struggling doing that no matter how fit they are.”