Friday 9 September 2022
Josh Barton makes his competitive debut for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday when they kick-off the new Gallagher Premiership season at home to Harlequins.
The 24-year-old scrum-half arrived from Coventry in the summer, and forms part of a side which sees a 50th club appearance for centre Ben Stevenson.
Prop-forward Phil Brantingham makes his first Premiership start on the loose-head side, with Newcastle welcoming back Sean Robinson from suspension and handing a start to Sebastian de Chaves as the lock begins his second spell with the club.
On the bench there could be a competitive debut for summer signing Tian Schoeman, the former Bath fly-half who ended an 18-month injury lay-off by appearing as a replacement in last Friday’s 33-29 victory at Doncaster Knights.
Head coach Dave Walder, now in full charge of first-team affairs, said: “Home against Harlequins is a great way to start the season, and we’re all buzzing to get into it.
“I was at the Gallagher Premiership launch last week in London and they put me up on stage for a Q&A with Tabai Matson from Harlequins and Steve Borthwick from Leicester – I think just out of sympathy for the length of journey I’d had! One of the questions was what’s the beauty of the Premiership, and I said it was the contrasting styles.
“For us, we’re facing Harlequins this weekend with their open running game which has won them a Premiership title two years ago and got them to a semi-final last season, and then in round two we travel to Leicester to face a completely different, but just as successful, approach.
“It’s tough, of course, but we’ve spoken a lot about our attitude and showing people what Newcastle Falcons are all about. The players call it their ‘True North’ mind-set, and it’s things like being positive in our decision-making, the way we talk to each other and everything around the place being about looking forward.
“If we get our attitude right on Saturday we can give a good account of ourselves, and then go down to Leicester the week after. So yeah, it’s a tough start, but it’s one we’re really looking forward to.”
Relishing the chance to take the lead role, Walder knows the Falcons have work to do in putting behind them the disappointment of how the previous campaign fizzled out.
“It’s no secret that last season we lost momentum with a few bits and pieces going on, but things became clearer during the off-season and we’ve gone on from there,” said the former England fly-half, who was a European Cup, domestic cup and Premiership title winner during his playing days.
“We got more clarity on exactly what the coaching team was going to be, the coaches and players have worked really well together and now here we are on the eve of the season. It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to get going.
“As much as we can say it’s a new coaching set-up in some ways, when you look at myself, Mark Laycock, Micky Ward, Scott MacLeod and Mark Wilson – we’ve all been around the club for years and know what this place is about.
“We know what’s needed, and the guys have added some new ideas and new energy to what we already had in place. Mark Laycock has been working hard to get our attack firing again, Micky and Scotty will work their magic with the forwards and Mark Wilson and I will lead on the defensive side of things. The proof will be in the pudding once we get into the games, but it’s a really exciting time for us.”
Giving fans a flavour of what he hopes to see as the season develops, Walder said: “We’re going to play a style of rugby which we believe will bring us success, and we’ll challenge sides in different ways.
“I always talk about the fact I was brought up on the ‘Entertainers’ era with Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United, and especially with the financial climate being as it is at the moment for people, we’ve got to be putting something on that they want to come and watch.
“People of course want to watch successful teams, but they also want to watch teams with local lads in, playing a style of rugby which befits the region.
“It’s about balancing all of that, and there will be ups and downs along the way. I don’t think we’ll get there in the first two or three weeks of the season, but I believe we’ll make it clearer for people in showing them where we’re trying to get to. Hopefully our supporters will buy in with us, we’ll improve week on week and ultimately end up in a good place.”
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Newcastle Falcons team v Harlequins (Saturday, 3pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Ben Stevenson, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Josh Barton; 1 Phil Brantingham, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Sean Robinson, 7 Jamie Blamire, 8 Will Welch (captain).
Replacements: 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Mark Tampin, 19 George Merrick, 20 Tom Marshall, 21 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 George Wacokecoke.
Not available for selection: Adam Brocklebank, Callum Chick, Jeremy Civil, Connor Collett, Luke Coulston, Matthew Dalton, Matt Deehan, Mark Dormer, Carl Fearns, Gary Graham, Louie Johnson, Freddie Lockwood, Matias Moroni, Chidera Obonna, Matias Orlando, Tom Penny, Guy Pepper, Vereimi Qorowale, Charlie Smith, Sam Stuart, Philip van der Walt, Michael Young.
Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Nick David, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Lennox Anyanwu, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Tommy Allan, 9 Lewis Gjaltema; 1 Joe Marler, 2 George Head, 3 Wilco Louw, 4 George Hammond, 5 Irne Herbst, 6 Jack Kenningham, 7 Tom Lawday, 8 Alex Dombrandt (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Simon Kerrod, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Will Evans, 21 Jack Stafford, 22 Will Edwards, 23 Joe Marchant.
Referee: Luke Pearce.