Newcastle make five changes for LV= Cup

Newcastle Falcons have made five changes to their side for Sunday’s Anglo Welsh LV= Cup visit of Harlequins to Kingston Park (kick-off 3pm).

In the backs there are just two changes from last weekend as Tom Biggs comes onto the left wing for Uche Oduoza , and fit-again centre Spencer Davey replaces the injured Alex Tait.

Tongan international Josh Afu starts at No.8 in place of the injured Adam Balding, with Ed Williamson taking over from Peter Browne on the blindside flank.

The only other change to the side from that which travelled to Worcester last weekend comes in the second row, where Tim Swinson takes the place of Filipo Levi who is on international duty with Samoa.

Speaking ahead of the game, director of rugby Steve Bates said: “We have to be very careful in terms of how we take this competition, and our approach is to say that it gives us an opportunity to allow game time to some guys who perhaps have points to prove.

“It is a case of giving these players the chance to show us what they can do, and for them to really stake a claim in terms of week in, week out selection for the Guinness Premiership games.

“They have been working very hard every day in training, and now they have a chance to transfer that into the matchday scenario and show us what they’ve got. It’s a great opportunity for a number of players, and as coaches it’s exciting for us to see them in action.

“The make-up of our squad is such that we can’t afford to say here is our main XV, and it’s going to play in every game. We need to be fair to the guys backing that up in giving them opportunities to prove themselves, and it’s a great chance for them to do that.”

Looking to learn the lessons of last weekend’s opening round defeat at Worcester in a pool which still sees them with a chance of going through, Bates said: “I actually felt the team did really well last week.

“We were right in it at half time, and we were unlucky to receive two yellow cards for what I would call very marginal offences. Both Mark Wilson and Rob Vickers’ sin-binnings were very harsh in my opinion, and the first try they scored in the second half should probably not have been allowed.

“Clearly there were areas where we needed to improve, but I thought the spirit was excellent and despite the result I was largely very happy with what I saw. It looked like a team which hadn’t played much rugby together, but I felt as if the effort was very good.”

Having conceded a hat-trick of tries from driving mauls, the former England scrum half said: “In some ways it was disappointing that the maul became the defining feature of the game, because I felt in many cases that it was illegally formed and that we did not have a fair opportunity to tackle the ball carrier in the first instance because there were already bodies in front.

“On the other hand it was quite pleasing that they had to resort to that with the way we defended everywhere else on the park. They didn’t look like scoring a try for most of the afternoon against us anywhere other than in the maul, and in a strange sort of way we can actually take a bit of credit for that.

“Fair play to Worcester, they sensed that the referee wasn’t going to enforce the laws at the driving maul, and they exploited it pretty ruthlessly, so you can’t really criticise them at all from that point of view.”

Insisting that despite the number of changes the Falcons are still taking the LV= Cup seriously, Bates said: “The Guinness Premiership is undoubtedly the most important competition we are involved with this season, but having said that every time a Newcastle team takes the field they are going all out to win.

“Having played Harlequins once this season already we know what sort of test awaits us, we have prepared as thoroughly as we would do for a league game and the players involved are really excit

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