Will Welch plays his first competitive game of the season on Friday when Newcastle Falcons host Wasps in Gallagher Premiership action.
The back-row forward has been out since November’s pre-season trip to Ealing, and forms part of a side showing seven changes from last weekend’s home meeting with Bath.
Joel Hodgson starts at fly-half in a half-back pairing with the returning Michael Young – the pair having both been late withdrawals last weekend. Young captains the side, with fit-again wing Ben Stevenson returning to the line-up.
In the pack another of last week’s late withdrawals, Logovi’i Mulipola, returns to fitness, Marco Fuser coming back into the second row while Welch and Sean Robinson are both brought into the back row.
Alex Tait would make his 250th competitive appearance for the club should he be called upon from the bench, the Co Durham native’s 249 outings having brought a total of 35 tries.
Tait would become only the sixth player from the professional era to play 250 games for the club, joining Micky Ward (286), Tom May (274), Rob Vickers (262), Matt Thompson (258) and Jamie Noon (252). Current squad-mates Will Welch and Mark Wilson are not too far behind, having played 241 and 227 games respectively.
Newcastle have already defeated Wasps once this season having enjoyed a 27-17 triumph at the Ricoh Arena in early December, although director of rugby Dean Richards expects a tough return encounter against the men from Coventry.
“Wasps have a huge amount of pace in the back line, they’ll play from anywhere and they’ve got quality players across the board,” he said.
“They haven’t won as many games as they would have liked but they definitely pose a threat, and it’ll be a good game.”
Looking to bounce back from last weekend’s home loss to Bath, the Falcons boss added: “We weren’t happy with the performance.
“There’s no excuse for losing in the way in which we did, but Bath are a good side who hit their straps pretty early on. We were chasing the game from there, and didn’t catch up.
“We’ve been without a number of our leaders for one reason or another, and when you lose those types of players it has a big impact on the team dynamic.
“If you look at our first four games we hardly changed the side at all during that period, and when the injuries came in it started to have an impact.
“Every team goes through it at one time or another, but you want that continuity and to have your leaders on the field. Coupled with the covid disruption we’ve had since Christmas it does begin to have an impact, but we’re working hard to get back on track.”
Currently sat at eighth in the table, Richards said: “We had a fantastic start to the season, we picked up with a good win against Harlequins a few weeks ago and then lost to Sale and Bath – two strong teams when you look at it on paper.
“It’s all about getting back on track because we know we can do it, and when we get it right we can beat anyone.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Friday, 7.45pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on BT Sport 1)
15 Tom Penny
14 Mateo Carreras
13 George Wacokecoke
12 Luther Burrell
11 Ben Stevenson
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Michael Young (captain)
1 Trevor Davison
2 George McGuigan
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Greg Peterson
5 Marco Fuser
6 Sean Robinson
7 Will Welch
8 Philip van der Walt
16 Jamie Blamire
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Mark Tampin
19 Will Montgomery
20 Callum Chick
21 Louis Schreuder
22 Brett Connon
23 Alex Tait