Newcastle v Gloucester preview: Falcons hand ex-All Black debut in season opener
Newcastle begins their Premiership season at home against Gloucester on Friday night: 20:00 kick-off
Mike Delany, Mouritz Botha, Taione Vea and Todd Clever make their Falcons debuts
Sione Kalamafoni, Ben Morgan and Jonny May return from World Cup duty to be amongst Gloucester’s replacements
Billy Twelvetrees will Captain the Cherry and Whites while Will Welch leads the hosts
Ex-All Black fly-half Mike Delany will make his Newcastle Falcons debut when they kick off their Aviva Premiership season against Gloucester at Kingston Park tonight.
The Kiwi, who made his one cap for New Zealand in 2009, joined the north east based club over the summer following a two-year spell with Clermont in the Top 14. They will also hand a first start to former England international lock Mouritz Botha, who returns to the Premiership after trying his hand in Super Rugby with the Sharks.
Crowd favourite Sinoti Sinoti, who touched down for the Falcons during their 20-10 win in the corresponding fixture last season, has won his race for fitness to start on the wing for the hosts while 25-year-old Will Welch leads the team out as Captain. Other new signings Taione Vea and Todd Clever also both start
Newcastle, who have welcomed now all but two of their players back from the Rugby World Cup, finished second-bottom last season, however, the way they played throughout the campaign gave their supporters plenty reasons for optimism.
For Gloucester, who have Sione Kalamafoni, Ben Morgan and Jonny May returning from international duty to take their place amongst the replacements, a good start to the season is important following their 53-6 thrashing from Northampton on the opening day last season.
Billy Twelvetrees will Captain the Cherry and Whites while scrum-half Willi Heinz and prop Paddy McAllister have been handed their Premiership debuts after joining in the summer.
You have to go back to September 2007 to discover the last time that Newcastle Falcons won their opening Aviva Premiership Rugby fixture of a new season. However, with Gloucester missing the likes of Greig Laidlaw the hosts, who won the corresponding fixture last season, will be confident of putting an end to that miserable record.
Newcastle by 10
Players to Watch
In what is destined to be a closel contested game a piece of magic could perhaps be the difference between winning and losing. These two wings, therefore, could have an important role to play tonight.
Sinoti Sinoti (Newcastle Falcons)
Weighing in at almost 16 stone, Sinoti is one of the most powerful and fearsome wingers in the game. After running in a respectable nine tries last year, the 30-year-old has plenty to build on ahead of the new campaign. The former Toulon man, who has one cap for Samoa, plays with an infectiously positive attitude, and his performances will be key if he and his teammates are to achieve their goals this year.
Jonny May (Gloucester)
The local hero in the South West starts from the bench tonight but could make the difference in the second half. May showed his commitment to the Gloucester cause by signing a long-term deal in October last year. By his high standards, he suffered a disappointing campaign last year, but showed flashes of brilliance when allowed to shine – which was better, his try against Connacht, or his try against New Zealand?
Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Tom Catterick, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Adam Powell, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Ruki Tipuna, 8 Todd Clever, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Calum Green, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Taione Vea, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Eric Fry, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Josh Furno, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Micky Young, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Tom Penny.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Bill Meakes, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Lewis Ludlow, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Jacob Rowan, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Sione Kalamafoni, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Jonny May, 23 Steve McColl.
Date: Friday, October 16
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant referees: Andrew Small, Wayne Falla
Television match official: Trevor Fisher
Timekeeper: David Hudson
Assessor: Gary Welsh