No second-string Cup side for Newcastle Falcons, says Richards

Director of rugby expects blend of experience and fringe talent to shine in Anglo-Welsh competition

Newcastle Falcons boss Dean Richards
Newcastle Falcons boss Dean Richards

Director of rugby Dean Richards insists Newcastle Falcons will not be putting out a second-string selection on Sunday.

London Irish are the visitors to Kingston Park for the second time inside two weeks, this time in the opening round of the LV= Cup.

The Anglo-Welsh competition has long been beset by mass changes from established league line-ups, but the Falcons’ boss believes a mixture of regular and returning talent can make the perfect blend.

Richards, who will name his side later today, said: “It is not a second-team. It is a competitive side which will be a mixture of everybody and when people see our selection they will realise that.”

Two men who will not feature in the 3pm kick-off are hooker Matt Thompson and centre Michael Tait who have both undergone operations this week, the former expected to be sidelined for between four to six weeks with a hernia.

Richards added: “A lot of the guys selected have played a lot of first-team rugby and, in some cases, international rugby.

“In that respect it is a good team and we are looking forward to the weekend.”

One player lined up for a return is 19-year-old wing Zach Kibirige, the England age-group cap who averaged more than a try per game last season after making his senior breakthrough.

Richards said: “Zach has out-and-pace and the capability to beat somebody on a sixpence.

“He gives us something different with the ability and flair he has in certain areas and in a back-three with Noah Cato and Tom Catterick there is plenty of attacking potential in there.”

Kibirige’s raw finishing prowess would be a welcome addition to a Falcons side which has struggled to find the try-line this season, burning numerous scoring opportunities during last weekend’s 40-3 loss at Saracens.

Richards said: “For 50 minutes down there we were quite competitive. We let a try in just before half-time but could have scored two or three ourselves, having looked at the video time and time again.

“There were a lot of things we can build on, but when you concede the amount of tries and penalties we did you are always going to be chasing the game.

“The positive aspects were the way in which we started and the obvious target is turning that into the 80-minute performance which everybody aspires to.”

Richard Mayhew made his first appearance of the season from the bench in the five-try loss and the Kiwi flanker is among those set to feature on Sunday, according to the Newcastle boss.

Richards added: “We have a number of guys coming back from injury like Richard, who you would consider to be regular first-team players.

“That will be coupled with some of the guys who are first-team players but, for one reason or another, have not been getting a start.

“They will all get a chance, and there are a number of our regulars who will be involved.” Having had a first-hand look at London Irish as recently as two weeks ago in their 13-11 Premiership triumph, the director of rugby said: “On that occasion they were well-drilled and they are a good side.

“They have a lot of threats in the back-line and it should be an interesting game. They will be coming up here to win, and we will be as competitive as we always are.

“The beauty for us is that over the last few months we have won those close games. That is a habit we don’t want to get out of.”

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