Newcastle Falcons ring the changes for Europe

Newcastle director of rugby Steve Bates has named his side for Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup opener in Italy, as the Falcons travel to face Petrarca Padova (kick-off 3pm local time, 2pm UK time).


Hooker Alex Walker and prop forward Laurence Ovens both make their maiden starts for the club after summer moves, in a side showing nine changes and one positional switch from that which faced Premiership leaders Saracens last weekend.


A new-look front row is completed with the return of skipper Carl Hayman, while Mark Sorenson comes into the second row alongside Samoan international Filipo Levi. Blindside Peter Browne and No.8 Adam Balding freshen up the back row, with England Under-20s star Rob Miller starting at fly half.


Springbok centre Gcobani Bobo takes the No.13 shirt, with the only other change to the side coming on the right wing as fit-again Danny Williams takes his place after recent hamstring troubles.


“A few guys have been given a chance to show us what they can do, and some of those who have been playing well for the A-team now have an opportunity to really stake a claim for first team selection on a regular basis,” said Bates.


“All of those guys have been with us all summer working hard in training, they deserve their chance and it will be interesting to see how they go. I’m excited about watching this team, there is interest right across the field and it should be a good test.


“We’ve taken the first five Premiership games as a block, and these next two matches in Europe give us a chance to look at a few other guys and make an assessment of where we are going into the next slice of Guinness Premiership games at Bath and home to Worcester.


“It’s a different side, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a weaker side and we have a lot of confidence in the guys who are coming in.


“There are one or two players nursing injuries who will benefit from a breather, like Brent Wilson (knee), Jon Golding (ankle) and Rob Vickerman (face). But this weekend is about saying here are some players who have put a huge amount into training, and let’s see what they can do out on the field.”


With a number of youngsters given a chance on the bench, Bates added: “Will Welch made his debut last season, has been training hard with us all year and really deserves his chance on the back of some very impressive performances for the A-team.


“Grant Shiells has learnt an awful lot over the summer in training with us, and in the A-games has given a very strong account of himself against some big strong props. He has held his own so far which is testament to the hard work he has put in, so now it’s a case of taking those first steps at senior level. Likewise for Kieran Brookes who made his first team debut last weekend and did pretty well in a brief cameo towards the end.


“Chris Pilgrim at scrum half has come to us from Nottingham and really impressed in the Monday night matches, and I’m keen to look at these guys to really open up selection for the remainder of the season.”


Asked what he expects from Saturday’s hosts, who suffered two 50-point defeats when the Falcons last met them three years ago in the same competition, Bates said: “Stuart Grimes played for them the season before last and knows most of their players so, that has been a valuable asset for us, and we’ve also been following their progress over the past few games.


“They’re up around the top three of the Italian league, and with a fly half like Ludovic Mercier we know they have someone who will punish any penalties in our own half and who will direct them around the field.


“They lost by two points away at Parma last weekend, and whilst we are obviously paying them every respect in preparing properly, the focus this week in training has been mainly on ourselves rather than over-analysing the opposition.


“There is an awful lot for us to play for in this next fortnight in

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