Newcastle Falcons captain Will Welch insists he is not put out by wearing six on his back, having been moved from open-side flanker to accommodate Andy Saull.
Welch has made the No 7 shirt his own during the past two seasons, guiding the Falcons to the RFU Championship title and playing regularly there during the first four months of the Aviva Premiership season. But with England Saxons cap Saull, a summer signing from Saracens, now over his injury troubles, Welch has slid across to the blind-side as Newcastle look to find their balance.
“I have played blind-side a fair few times already in my career, and in some of the England age-group stuff,” said Welch, who captained the Falcons to a 25-10 victory over Calvisano in Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup tie in northern Italy.
“I am more than happy to play at six, and as long as I am contributing to the team then it isn’t a problem.
“Saully brings a lot of energy to the side and it was good to be out there with him. It seems to work well having both of us on the field.”
The twin open-side threat has been tried in rugby before, Australia struggling to pick between George Smith and Phil Waugh and ending up playing both. Wales have done the same with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, Newcastle off-setting a lighter blend by going with the bulk of Richard Mayhew at No 8 last weekend.
“It was hard work going out to Italy and playing against such a physical team in front of their passionate support,” said Welch, whose team now jointly top the Pool C standings with Brive.
The French outfit visit Kingston Park in the second week of January in a game which looks like deciding which of the two progresses through to the quarter-finals, the Falcons having missed out on a four-try bonus point by just a single score.
“Four points is four points, and we will go into the game against Brive looking to nail down that quarter-final spot,” said Welch, whose side travel to Devon on league duty this Saturday.
“The confidence aspect of these last two games is important, with getting eight tries and a couple of decent wins.
“We haven’t scored too many in the Premiership, as everyone knows, and the European break has been useful from that point of view. It has given the boys a bit of confidence, and that should do us the world of good with a tough game like Exeter away coming up.”
Having been given a decent work-out by a fired-up Italian side, the former Royal Grammar School pupil said: “We knew it was going to be difficult, and we missed a few opportunities which didn’t help matters.
“Overall we were quite pleased with a lot of what we did. They were a completely different team at home to what we had faced in Newcastle. We always knew that would be the case, and they tried to slow the game down a little bit.
“There were some positives we could take from Calvisano down to Exeter, but at the same time still plenty to work on.”
Insisting he should be fine for the Sandy Park clash despite leaving the field on the hour mark after taking a heavy contact at a midfield ruck, Welch said: “I just got cleared out and took a little bit of a stinger, but it is not too bad.
“We knew Calvisano would be a big test, but we always had one eye on the Exeter game. It will be a tough battle down there, and we wanted to put some of the stuff we want to use against Exeter into the game in Italy.”
Director of rugby Dean Richards was satisfied his side’s injury count was kept to a minimum, fly-half Phil Godman having been removed as a precaution after 20 minutes having sustained an upper-body knock in the act of tackling opposite number Kelly Haimona.
Richards said: “There were a few bumps and bruises as you would usually expect, but nothing like last weekend where we had Harrison Collins’ knee ligaments going and Sean Brown breaking his leg. We are certainly a bit better off than we were last week on that front.”