Preview: Bristol v Newcastle

Bristol head coach Richard Hill has made several changes to his side for the Guinness Premiership visit of Newcastle on Sunday.

Regular fly-half David Hill has been switched to inside centre to accommodate for Jason Strange, who impressed coming off the bench in last week’s narrow loss to Harlequins.

In the pack, Jason Hobson is recalled at tighthead with Darren Crompton moving across to loose, whilst Sean Hohneck and Alfie To’oala come in at lock and flank respectively.

“Jason came on against Harlequins last weekend and looked in really good nick. Playing him alongside David Hill will offer us several options,” explained Hill.

“It’s also good to welcome back Sean Hohneck. He’s had a difficult of months since he had his appendix out and lost a lot of weight. He’s worked hard to build himself back up and get back to fitness and his lineout skills will be welcome.”

“We’re also starting Alfie To’oala to give us the extra physicality that he showed when he returned against Quins last weekend.”

“Newcastle have started well despite missing a few players to the World Cup and I gather they’ve also got a few injuries. But they’ve still got some very good players to choose from.”

“Honours were even last season and both games were very close. They’ll present a tough test for us on Sunday.”

Newcastle name prop Joe McDonnell as captain, replacing regular skipper Phil Dowson, who is absent due to a shoulder injury picked up in last week’s win over Leeds Carnegie.

Elsewhere, director of rugby John Fletcher has made two changes to his backline where academy product Adam Dehaty replaces centre Mark Mayerhofler, whilst James Grindal comes in for Lee Dickson at scrum-half.

Newcastle currently sit in fourth position in the Premiership after enjoying a solid start, yet Fletcher is refusing to bask in the early success.

“It has been a reasonable start result-wise with three wins from four, but we have a tough game at Bristol this weekend which will be a big test for the players,” he said.

“Their main strength is in the forwards, but recently they have started to move the ball around a lot more through the backs.

“David Lemi was their leading try-scorer last season and in my opinion is arguably the most exciting player in the Guinness Premiership to watch.

“I would certainly pay to see him play in any game, and in the two matches since he’s returned from the World Cup he has given their play a new dimension so we will have to keep a close eye on him.”

Form: Bristol’s home form against Newcastle’s away should mean that the hosts can claw back some Premiership ground after their poor start. Richard Hill’s side have lost just one of their last five fixtures at the Memorial Stadium, whilst the Falcons have not won at Sunday’s venue since December 1997. Also, Newcastle have only managed to record just once win away from Kingston Park in their last 15 Guinness Premiership matches.

The teams:

15 Josh Taumalolo, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Rob Higgitt, 12 David Hill, 11 David Lemi, 10 Jason Strange, 9 Brian O’Riordan, 8 Dan Ward-Smith, 7 Alfie To’oala, 6 Matt Salter (c), 5 Sean Hohneck, 4 Roy Winters, 3 Jason Hobson, 2 Scott Linklater, 1Darren Crompton.
Replacements: 16 David Blaney, 17 Dave Hilton, 18 Mariano Sambucetti, 19 Joe El Abd, 20 Nathan Budgett, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Neil Brew.

Newcastle: 15 Matthew Burke, 14 Tom May, 13 Adam Dehaty, 12 Joe Shaw, 11 John Rudd, 10 Steve Jones, 9 James Grindal, 8 Russell Winter, 7 Brent Wilson, 6 Geoff Parling, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Jason Oakes, 3 David Wilson, 2 Andy Long, 1 Joe McDonnell (c).
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Jon Golding, 18 Andy Perry, 19 Eni Gesinde, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Tim Visser, 22 Ollie Phillips.

Date: Sunday, 14 October 2007
Kick-off: 15:00 BST (14:00 GMT)
Venue: Memoria

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