Zach Kibirige to come of age in Championship

IF Zach Kibirige wants a post-match pint to toast his Championship debut for Newcastle Falcons, he will have to wait until midnight tomorrow for it.

Newcastle Falcons' 17-year-old winger Zach Kibirige
Newcastle Falcons' 17-year-old winger Zach Kibirige

IF Zach Kibirige wants a post-match pint to toast his Championship debut for Newcastle Falcons, he will have to wait until midnight tomorrow for it.

The Yarm School winger turns 18 on Sunday, but will this evening make his league bow for the Falcons as they aim to continue their unbeaten start to the season against midtable Rotherham Titans.

Kibirige's inclusion for Andy Higgins is the only change to a Newcastle starting XV which won 34-3 at Connacht Eagles in last weekend's British and Irish Cup clash, with the England Under-18s international aiming to kick on from a sensational senior debut.

The Middlesbrough-born speedster, who won gold for England's rugby 7s team at the Commonwealth Youth Games, was among the Newcastle scorers in their 52-5 win over Welsh visitors Cross Keys just under a fortnight ago.

Director of rugby Dean Richards is keen to manage Kibirige's introduction sensibly in combination with his A-Level studies and National One duty at Blaydon, but such is his form that it has proven impossible to leave him out.

Otherwise the team is the same as the one which started in Athlone a week ago, with Jimmy Gopperth once again preferred to Joel Hodgson at fly-half as Alex Tait continues in the full-back berth.

Chris York is included on the bench for a league return after overcoming a thumb injury, with Richards opting for plenty of bulk in the pack against a Rotherham team known for its size.

The Yorkshire visitors come into the game hot from a pair of victories in the British and Irish Cup, most notably last weekend's 59-26 triumph over Plymouth.

The Titans sit sixth after winning half of their six games in the Championship, and boast a handful of North East connections.

Skipper Lee Blackett was in the last Rotherham team to play the Falcons in what was their final game as a top-flight entity – a 26-20 Newcastle win at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium in 2004.

Blackett scored the quickest ever try in Premiership history against Newcastle while playing for Leeds in 2009 – 8.28 seconds, to be exact – and leads a side missing former Tynedale lock Barney Maddison with a season-ending knee injury.


NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, Z Kibirige, A Crockett, T Tu'ipulotu, T Catterick, J Gopperth, R Lawson; J Golding, R Vickers, O Tomaszczyk, C del Fava, S MacLeod, R Mayhew, W Welch (captain), A Hogg. Replacements: M Thompson, J Hall, S Tomes, C York, J Pasqualin, J Hodgson, J Fitzpatrick.

ROTHERHAM TITANS: F Mulchrone, P Homan, E Sheridan, L Blackett (captain), M Doneghan, J McKinney, J Williams; S Cahill, D Baines, R Davies, T Freeman, D Sanderson, N Dacres, C Kirwan, A Rieder. Replacements: T Stagg, J Kilbane, G Denman, J Ellyatt, G Law, J Gill, C Mulchrone.

Referee: L Ap Geraint-Roberts Kick-off: 8pm.


David Whetstone
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