Dan Ward-Smith starts for Bristol

Bristol Rugby number eight Dan Ward-Smith makes his first start for the first XV since December as Richard Hill introduces five new faces for the trip to Newcastle.

Bristol face their second consecutive trip to the north of England following last weekend’s win over Leeds Carnegie and Hill is finally able to shuffle his resources now that several players are back from long term injury.

Therearetwo changes in the backline with David Hill missing with a neck problem that has bothered him for a few weeks now. Sam Cox takes over at inside centre. And David Lemi has a slight calf strain and is replaced by Tom Arscott.

Up front, Scott Linklater and Jason Hobson who both made such an impact off the bench at Leeds are both named in the front row and there is a recall for skipper Matt Salter.

But Ward-Smith’s name is the most significant following lengthy absences following his terrible knee injury and then a broken hand.

Newcastle parted company with Director of Rugby John Fletcher this week and Hill admitted that this had come as a surprise to him:

“It’s always a bit of a shock to see one of your fellow coaches biting the dust like that. It seems harsh as they’ve had so many critical players taken away from them during the Six Nations.”

“Playing Newcastle now is an interesting one. I would imagine that the decision has come as a shock to the players but sometimes the players gather as a group with the captain and vow to turn things around themselves so it might add a bit of determination.”

“We’re going up there with a strong side and it would be nice to ease away from them having jumped a couple of points above them last week. This is a good opportunity with them missing a few players.”

“Having Shaun Perry back last week made a difference to us and this is the stage of the season when some teams and players get jaded and fall away a little.”

“We’ve not got the pressure of relegation hanging over us and we’re able to welcome back the likes of Shaun, Dan Ward-Smith, Peter Bracken and Nathan Budgett. We’ve also just about got Tom Arscott, Neil Brew and Lee Robinson back to fitness.”

“So, we’ve got players coming back fresh and full of enthusiasm and I’ve seen an upturn in us. We might yet catch a couple of teams.”

Bristol Rugby:

Luke Arscott; Anthony Elliott, Rob Higgitt, Sam Cox,Tom Arscott; Ed Barnes, Shaun Perry; Darren Crompton, Scott Linklater, Jason Hobson; Roy Winters, Sean Hohneck; Matt Salter (capt), Joe El Abd, Dan Ward-Smith


Mark Regan, Alex Clarke, Nathan Budgett, Andrew Blowers, Haydn Thomas, Jason Strange, Greg Barden.



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