Friday 20 January 2023
Philip van der Walt starts for Newcastle Falcons on Saturday as they host Irish province Connacht in the EPCR Challenge Cup.
The 5.30pm kick-off at Kingston Park sees Newcastle playing the final one of their four group games in the competition, with Van der Walt making his first start since injuring his knee in May. The South African came off the bench during the second half of last weekend’s trip to Cardiff, and forms part of a side showing eight changes.
Tucuman try machine Mateo Carreras returns on the left wing, with Alex Tait starting at full-back in place of the suspended Elliott Obatoyinbo, who was shown a red card last time out.
Michael Young captains the side from scrum-half, while there are five changes to the Falcons’ forward pack.
A full new front row sees Logovi’i Mulipola, Jamie Blamire and Trevor Davison in from the start, with Sebastian de Chaves returning to the second row.
Argentina international Pedro Rubiolo is set to make his home debut from the bench after coming on last weekend in Wales, while back-five forward Freddie Lockwood is poised to return from an ankle injury.
Newcastle are in a five-way fight for the last remaining spot in the round of 16, with Perpignan, Brive, Zebre and Bath also vying for the knock-out place.
Head coach Dave Walder said: “We’re in a bit of a strange position in that we really want to go through in the competition and have named a strong team, but by the time the game comes around results elsewhere might mean we’re already eliminated.
“We can’t worry about that – all we can do is just look to play well and win our game, and then we’ll deal with whatever does or doesn’t happen from there.
“It’s slightly strange that we’re still in a position to go through to the knock-out rounds despite losing all three of our games so far, but if by the time our game kicks off we’re still alive in the competition we’ll do everything in our power to make sure we do what we need to qualify.
“It could be the case that results in other games have cut that avenue off to us, but we still want to play well in front of our home fans, give them a performance to be proud of and use it to build towards the games we have left this season.
“From a mind-set and preparation point of view it’s actually really simple despite all the various permutations flying around. We just want to play well and give a true account of ourselves against a very good Connacht side.”
Newcastle were beaten 22-8 when they travelled to Galway last month, with Walder saying: “We’re definitely not taking anything for granted because Connacht are a dangerous outfit who have done well so far in the competition, and they’ll provide a big test for us.
“They’re really well coached, they have threats right throughout the team and it will be a good game.
“We were disappointed by how we went last weekend down at Cardiff. At 14-3 down we had a big overlap but threw an interception, so instead of being 14-10 it was 21-3, and when we then had a man sent off just before half-time it was always going to be really difficult from there.
“As always there’ll be a big emphasis on securing our possession, especially with the way Connacht compete at the set-piece. They’ve got lots of strings to their bow, but if we stay to our systems and don’t give them a chink of light then we’re in with a much stronger chance of shutting down their play-makers and strike runners.”
Newcastle’s preparation has this week included a visit from cricketing icon Ben Stokes, with the England test captain spending more than an hour taking questions from Falcons players and staff.
“He had a lot of really interesting things to say, based on being positive in everything you do and having a really aggressive mind-set,” said Walder, himself a former England Schools cricket captain.
“He was talking about having a belief and a philosophy, and sticking to it regardless of outside noises. He’s a really impressive bloke, as you’d expect, and it was just something different for the players and staff which really got them engaged.”
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Newcastle Falcons team v Connacht (Saturday, 5.30pm, Kingston Park)
15 Alex Tait, 14 Ben Stevenson, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Pete Lucock, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Michael Young (captain); 1 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Jamie Blamire, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 6 Gary Graham, 7 Philip van der Walt, 8 Carl Fearns.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Maddison, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Freddie Lockwood, 20 Pedro Rubiolo, 21 Josh Barton, 22 Josh Thomas, 23 Adam Radwan.
Not available for selection: Callum Chick, Sam Clark, Connor Collett, Brett Connon, Matthew Dalton, Matt Deehan, Tom Marshall, Matias Moroni, Elliott Obatoyinbo, Guy Pepper, Tom Penny, Sean Robinson, Oliver Spencer, George Wacokecoke, Will Welch.
Referee: Pierre-Baptiste Nuchy (France).