Newcastle Falcons give competitive debuts to four players tonight when they open their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign away to Wasps, with Josh Thomas, Josh Peters, Elliott Obatoyinbo and Nathan Greenwood all making their first appearances in the 7.45pm kick-off at Coventry Building Society Arena.
Fly-half Thomas and lock-forward Peters joined the Falcons in the summer from Ospreys and Doncaster respectively, with former Saracens full-back Obatoyinbo arriving last week on a two-month deal.
Winger Greenwood, 18, made his England 7s debut over the summer, with the former Whitley Bay Rockliff flyer coming through the Falcons’ ACE programme at Gosforth Academy.
Hooker Charlie Maddison captains a Newcastle team showing the full 15 changes from Saturday’s league trip to Leicester Tigers, with England Under-20s international Louie Johnson starting at inside centre.
Iwan Stephens starts on the wing after a pre-season campaign which saw him scoring a try and making another away to Leicester Tigers, with scrum-half James Blackett part of a starting XV containing nine current or former Falcons academy players.
Centre Jeremy Civil is another debutant in waiting, with the Falcons’ ACE graduate having played his junior rugby with Wensleydale RFC and Cumbria.
The Falcons have drafted in a trio of local student players to complete their match-day squad, with Northumbria University lock Will Hopes being joined among the replacements by Newcastle University pair Rory Ward and George Bennett-Teare, the latter of whom made a similar guest appearance away to Northampton Saints during last season’s competition.
Tonight’s trip to Wasps is the first of four Premiership Rugby Cup games for the Falcons, who host Sale Sharks on Tuesday September 27 before travelling to Leicester Tigers on Wednesday October 19, completing their pool campaign at home to Northampton Saints on Saturday November 19.
The three pool winners and one best runner-up will progress through to the semi-finals on February 24/25/26, with the final to be held on May 2/3.
Fitting the cup games into a packed league programme has proved a challenge for head coach Dave Walder, who said: “A Saturday to Tuesday turnaround is unusual for us and feels like a bit of a football fixture list.
“We’ve got three away games in the space of eight days, which would stretch any squad, and when you chuck in the number of injuries we’ve had then it’s just one of those things.
“We’ve got a good group of lads who are desperate to play rugby, though, and for a lot of those guys this will be a great opportunity.”
A former Wasp in his own playing days, the former England fly-half said: “It’s important for us to go down to Wasps and get our first win of the season, but the fact we’ve got those three away games inside the same week just dictates our decision-making in terms of the squad we will travel down with.
“It’s great for us to get a proper look at some of our lads in that match scenario, although the timing probably isn’t ideal with the way the fixtures have fallen.
“It is what it is, though, it’s a great opportunity for the lads and we’ll go down there looking forward to giving it a good go.”
Tonight’s game is not on TV and is not being live-streamed, but there will be live radio coverage from the BBC Newcastle team on their DAB frequency as well as the BBC Rugby website, BBC Sport app and Freeview channel 719.
Newcastle Falcons team v Wasps (Tuesday, 7.45pm, Coventry Building Society Arena)
15 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 14 Nathan Greenwood, 13 Zach Kerr, 12 Louie Johnson, 11 Iwan Stephens, 10 Josh Thomas, 9 James Blackett; 1 Conrad Cade, 2 Charlie Maddison (captain), 3 Conor Kenny, 4 George Merrick, 5 Josh Peters, 6 Matt Deehan, 7 Marcus Tiffen, 8 Tom Marshall.
Replacements: 16 Ollie Fletcher, 17 Mark Dormer, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Will Hopes (Northumbria University), 20 George Bennett-Teare (Newcastle University), 21 Rory Ward (Newcastle University), 22 Ben Douglas, 23 Jeremy Civil.
Not available for selection: Adam Brocklebank, Callum Chick, Luke Coulston, Matthew Dalton, Nathan Earle, Gary Graham, Pete Lucock, Matias Moroni, Logovi’i Mulipola, Chidera Obonna, Matias Orlando, Tom Penny, Guy Pepper, Vereimi Qorowale, Charlie Smith, Sam Stuart, Philip van der Walt, Michael Young.
Guest player bios:
George Bennett-Teare: Back row, Newcastle University, 01/02/2002, 193cm, 110kg.
Will Hopes: Lock, Northumbria University, 20/7/2001, 194cm, 105kg.
Bath Rugby can confirm England international Joe Cokanasiga has committed his future to the club.
The 25-year-old has been in fine form this season, scoring four tries in nine Gallagher Premiership matches to date, and joins Tom Dunn, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Cameron Redpath and Ben Spencer in extending his time at The Rec.
“Joe has been excellent for us this season and we’re delighted he will be staying with us,” Head of Rugby Johann van Graan said.
“He has great physical attributes which he uses to great effect, and his offloading ability in contact has provided us with fantastic attacking opportunities.
“He is an exciting player for us and we have no doubt he will continue to be an integral member of our squad.”
Cokanasiga has flourished under van Graan and has had a notable influence in games due to his power and pace.
Since arriving in the West Country, the bulldozing wing has featured over 50 times for the Blue, Black and White whilst also making a significant impact on the international stage.
Debuting in 2018 against Japan, Cokanasiga has scored 12 tries in 14 Test matches, adding to his 21 in Bath colours.
“There are goals I still want to accomplish here,” he said.
“I really want to mark my time at the club by winning trophies; that’s a big ambition of mine.
“A lot of change has taken place over the past few years, but this season I’ve found consistency in my performances. I feel I’ve positively contributed to the club’s progression and I’m excited by what’s to come in the next chapter.”
JOIN JOE AT THE REC FOR OUR REMAINING HOME GAMES!
Bath Rugby return to action on Saturday 18 February against London Irish before hosting Bristol Bears on Friday 24 February.
Exeter Chiefs head to The Rec on Sunday 26 March in our penultimate home outing.
Josh Hodge says he’s ‘over the moon’ to have agreed a new long-term deal with the Exeter Chiefs.
The gifted full-back has pledged his future to the Devon club and believes an exciting period lies ahead for him and everyone at Sandy Park.
Signed in the summer of 2020 from Gallagher Premiership rivals Newcastle Falcons, the 22-year-old has to date made 37 first-team appearances, scoring 39 points in all competitions.
He is seen by many, including Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, as one of the crown jewels in Exeter’s exciting vision for the future and news that he is staying put for the foreseeable future will be welcomed by everyone connected with the Chiefs.
“To be honest, it wasn’t a hard decision to sign a new contract with this fantastic club,” said Hodge. “Personally, I’m over the moon and I’m looking forward to my future here in the sunny county of Devon.
“There has been a lot of effort, good business decisions and hard work, both in training and on the pitch, to achieve the results the club has achieved in recent years.”
Alongside Hodge, the Chiefs are investing heavily in bringing through their next crop of young talent, such as Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Marcus Street, Richard Capstick, Sam Maunder, Will Becconsall and Greg Fisilau to name but a few.
“I’m looking forward to working with the team to help the club attain its rightful position towards the top of all the competitions we take part in and justify the efforts of past players and trainers,” added Hodge.
“All the building blocks have been put in place by the board, backroom staff and coaches and it’s up to the team to work tirelessly to put the cherry on the cake and deliver the results the Chiefs and our fans deserve.”
Others within the current Chiefs ranks are expected to confirm they are also extending their stays with the club in the coming days and weeks.
Leicester Tigers can confirm the signing of Mike Brown on a short-term contract.
The outside-back joins Tigers after previously representing Harlequins, where he won two Premiership titles, and Newcastle Falcons.
Brown has made 72 Test appearances for England and featured in three Six Nations winning campaigns for the national side.
Speaking about the addition of Brown, Leicester Tigers Head Coach Richard Wigglesworth said: “Mike is an experienced Premiership player, who has represented his country and won trophies at club and Test level.
“His experience and his knowledge is vital during this Six Nations period where we have a number of players away.
“Mike is hungry to prove himself out on the pitch and impressed us with not only what he’s saying and doing off the pitch, but his efforts on the field and willingness to help those guys around him.
“Above all, Mike is a competitor and wants to be successful. We want those attributes in our players and he offers that.”
Discussing the move to Leicester Tigers, Brown said: “To join a club like this with all of its history and players who have been here before, it is amazing.”
“When Leicester Tigers offer you the chance to go into the environment, it is a hard one to turn down.”
Brown joins after a trial period at the club, about which he added: “To get the chance to come into the environment has been great so far and a really positive experience for me.”
“It has just had a great impression on me, led by enthusiastic coaches – one of which in Wiggy I have played a lot of rugby with – and then equally, all of the players have welcomed me in.
“I have felt sharp and it has been really good out on the field with this group of Tigers players.”
Brown recently featured for The Barbarians and, looking ahead to a potential return to professional rugby, said: “I still believe I have a part to play in the game. I didn’t believe it was my time to stop because I felt good and I still feel good.”
“I have been staying fit, wanting to be ready and not just hanging on to hope but being best prepared if it did.”