Newcastle Falcons will tonight offer a higher-definition view of the squad which will start the new Aviva Premiership campaign, as they play their final pre-season friendly.
Taking on Edinburgh in Hawick, the expanded benches and rolling replacements so evident in their previous two outings have been whittled down just a week ahead of their league opener against Bath.
The results should make interesting viewing – especially in the back-row, where skipper Will Welch starts the game with six on his back.
Playing most of last season at open-side, his move coincides with Andy Saull coming into the Falcons’ starting XV for the first time, having missed the 21-21 draw with Bath and Saturday’s 23-10 triumph over Connacht through injury.
The former Saracen has made a career as a specialist seven, foraging at the breakdown, and while his addition certainly gives Newcastle more fleet of foot around the park, the ball-carrying burden will rest heavily on the shoulders of Ally Hogg.
The former Edinburgh man is one of six Scots in the Falcons’ starting XV, and will at least have able assistance from countryman Fraser McKenzie in the battle to get over the gain line. Up against his former club, the Scotland A cap partners Scott MacLeod in the second-row.
MacLeod will not have far to travel for the fixture, with the former Scottish international still a resident of the border town.
He said: “I was secretly hoping it would be in Hawick, and it is actually 13 or 14 years since I last played there. I can’t remember the last time there was a professional game played in the town, and with it being half-way between the two grounds it seems the ideal place to stage it.
“It is mainly just excitement on my part in terms of playing on my home patch, and I should have a lot of friends and family there. I can just walk to the ground from home rather than driving for two hours to Kingston Park, and there is a real buzz about the place.
“The match has been well advertised up here, and everyone you speak to seems to be going. I know Newcastle are bringing a fair few with them over the border, too, and it should be a great atmosphere.”
Forecasting a full-intensity skirmish, he added: “It is our last pre-season game, so it is all about putting a marker down for selection going into the Premiership. From the team point of view the aim is to iron out a few creases, and to get our structures where we want them to be.
“It is a big game for everybody, and for Edinburgh as well. I don’t think there is such a thing as a friendly and, speaking to some of their players this week, they are treating it the same as us.”
An experienced half-back line-up pairs former Edinburgh pair Phil Godman and Mike Blair against their old club, Godman having benched against Bath and Connacht to good effect.
In the centres Tane Tu’ipulotu is again missing through injury, director of rugby Dean Richards handing another start to Irishman Danny Barnes.
The ex-Munster man partners Samoan Jamie Helleur in a solid-looking midfield, while the back three has a consistent look about it.
Ryan Shortland, with three tries from two games in pre-season, starts again on the left wing, with Tom Catterick continuing at full-back after strong showings in both previous appearances.
With Newcastle using just 24 of their squad this evening in Hawick, Richards will give a whole host of his fringe men a run-out tomorrow when a Falcons Development XV takes on Blaydon at Crow Trees, kicking off at 2pm.