Toby Flood returns for Newcastle Falcons as they welcome Premiership leaders Bristol Bears to Kingston Park Stadium on Saturday.
Flood comes in at fly-half as one of only two changes from the side which started at Leicester Tigers last weekend – Matias Orlando’s absence in the centres seeing George Wacokecoke push infield, with Cooper Vuna coming onto the right wing.
On the bench there is a first league outing of the season for fit-again tight-head Rodney Ah You, while Italian lock Marco Fuser returns from injury.
Hopeful of a forward platform against a Bears side who ground out a home win in the reverse fixture back on January 1, director of rugby Dean Richards said: “When we get parity from a set-piece point of view we know our attack causes problems for teams, and it’ll be quite an interesting game.
“When we played them down there on New Year’s Day it was very close in certain ways, and they’ve got a squad to die for when you look at what they can put out onto the field.
“They’ve spent a lot of money to get quality and numbers, and it’s a good squad. With that sort of line-up you’d expect them to be first or second in the league, and they’re doing as well as you’d expect them to with that kind of outlay.
“You’ve still got to put it all together once you’ve assembled that kind of group, though, and they’re certainly doing that at the moment. It’ll be a good test for us.”
Determined to keep 15 men on the field after an uncharacteristic spate of cards last time out, Richards added: “One of the pleasing things last weekend was that even when we went down to 14 and even 13 men with 10 minutes to go we were still in with a shout, and were only one or two scores away.
“We hadn’t had too many sin-binnings in the league up until last weekend, and we don’t intend to have many more going forward.”
Determined that Saturday’s game can be a catalyst for a strong finish to the campaign, the Falcons boss said: “We had a great start to the season, and we probably caught a few teams by surprise when people weren’t expecting us to do so well.
“We’ve had a few defeats since but we’ve got four home games left to come in the league, and we’re still confident we can make something of the remaining seven rounds of the competition.
“Getting a win is important – especially at Kingston Park, which is our fortress. This is never an easy place to come, and everyone here wants to fight for the cause. Bristol are coming here in top form, which for us makes it all the more of a mouth-watering proposition.”
Saturday’s game has been moved to 5pm to avoid clashing with the funeral of HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and in the build-up to the game Richards was asked if their paths had ever crossed.
“I didn’t have any dealings with Prince Philip from a rugby perspective, but I did come across him a couple of times at garden parties and such events,” he said.
“He was an extremely charismatic man who came across as being very personable, and it’s a sad loss for the Royal family and the country as a whole.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Bristol Bears (Saturday, 5pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on BT Sport 1)
15 Tom Penny
14 Cooper Vuna
13 George Wacokecoke
12 Pete Lucock
11 Ben Stevenson
10 Toby Flood
9 Michael Young
1 Trevor Davison
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi’i Mulipola
4 Greg Peterson
5 Sean Robinson
6 Will Welch
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Callum Chick
16 Jamie Blamire
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Rodney Ah You
19 Marco Fuser
20 Philip van der Walt
21 Louis Schreuder
22 Brett Connon
23 Gary Graham