Preview – Gloucester v Newcastle

Newcastle Falcons welcome back the England quartet of Toby Flood, Jamie Noon, Jonny Wilkinson and Mathew Tait to their backline as they prepare for Saturday’s Guinness Premiership clash against Gloucester at Kingsholm.

All four start in a Falcons side showing only one further change from last weekend’s trip to Worcester, as James Grindal replaces Lee Dickson at scrum-half.

Following two matches for the Development Team lock Andy Perry is included among the replacements after ten weeks out with a fractured eye socket, joining a bench including Samoan international Loki Crichton and wing John Rudd.

“It’s not just about the backs, most games are decided by the forwards and how well they get and retain the ball,” said Newcastle coach, John Fletcher.

“It’s going to be a good test because Gloucester are playing some super rugby at the moment. They play with ambition and they are a side I look forward to watching whenever they’re on TV.

“Playing against a side like that suits us. We want teams to take us on by playing rugby, that suits how we play, and Gloucester are certainly capable of doing that with the exceptional balance they have in their side.”

With Gloucester unbeaten at home all season Fletcher is well aware of the task in hand at Kingsholm.

“Their pack will likely contain six or seven internationals, and it will be a big test for us of where we are in our own development as a forward unit,” said Fletcher.

“We are under no illusions where we are as a side. We’re tenth and we have to win games to stay up. That’s the reality of the situation, we’re not trying to hide from it or dress it up.

“We’re in the learning environment, and we talk about learning every single day with the players. You have to learn to survive and thrive, and credit to our lads, we haven’t had to talk about the same thing more than once. It’s just a case of putting the whole game together.

“We are learning as a side, and with a lot of players in their early 20s we’re only going to get better. I knew at the start of the season we were going to have to take some bloody noses with where this group of players is in its development, but medium to long term I think we’re in fantastic shape.”

Fletcher will be the only director of rugby on the touchline this weekend with Gloucester’s Dean Ryan in the middle of a 13-week ban, but he believes Ryan’s spell in the stands will not hand any advantage to the Falcons.

“I think as coaches we probably overestimate the role we have and how much the players actually listen to what we say – half of the time as coaches you’re probably just talking to yourself,” he said.

“The game is all about players, not coaches, and so having Dean in the stands on match day won’t make any real difference to them I don’t think.”

Form: Gloucester Rugby are at the top of the current form table with an impressive 23 league points gained from their last six outings. Gloucester currently have a perfect played 9, won 9 record in the Guinness Premiership at Kingholm this season and are eyeing a perfect home season for the first time since 2002/03. Newcastle Falcons’ last ten encounters in the Guinness Premiership have all gone the way of the home side on the day, whilst the Falcons only win on the road in the Premiership since February 2006 was 26-18 at Sale on 17 November. The Falcons have only beaten Gloucester once since 2001: 42-22 in the Premiership at Kingston Park on 5 October 2003. Newcastle have visited Kingsholm on 13 previous occasions and won just once: 29-27 in the Premiership on 11 April 1998.

Gloucester: tbc

Newcastle:15 Matthew Burke (c), 14 Tom May, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Jamie Noon, 11 Toby Flood, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 James Grindal, 8 Brent Wilson, 7 Ben Woods, 6 Geoff Parling, 5 Jason Oakes, 4 Mark Sorenson, 3 Micky Ward, 2 Matt Thompson, 1 Joe McDonnell
Replacements: 16

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