Team: Newcastle Falcons
Coach: Alan Tait
Home ground: Kingston Park
Luke Eves (centre, Bristol), Darren Fearn (prop, Northumbria University), Luke Fielden (fullback, Bedford), James Fitzpatrick (centre, Blaydon), Joe Graham (hooker, Tynedale), James Hall (prop, Coventry), Andrew Henderson (centre, Montauban), Joel Hodgson (RGS Newcastle), Ally Hogg (back row, Edinburgh), Jeremy Manning (fly half, Munster), Redford Pennycook (Bristol), Glen Townson (lock, Doncaster), Mark Wilson (flanker, Blaydon)
Adam Balding (back row, Worcester), Tom Biggs (wing, Bath), Peter Browne (lock, Harlequins), Spencer Davey (centre, retired), Carl Hayman (prop, Toulon), Chris Micklewood (utility back), Rob Miller (fly half, Sale), Laurence Ovens (prop, Bedford), Mark Sorenson (lock, Northampton), Alex Walker (hooker, Esher)
The manner in which Jimmy Gopperth has taken over from Jonny Wilkinson as the North-East’s favourite fly-half has been mightily impressive. There were concerns last year that they’d struggle with the loss of a few key players, but Gopperth has become a real asset, orchestrating proceedings at 10, kicking the points when they are on and ensuring the team does just enough to stay in the game. All of that means that they are a very difficult side to beat, and apart from the anomalous 58-14 thrashing by Saracens, no team was able to open them up last season.
Newcastle’s home form has been a concern, with only two victories at Kingston Park last year (although they drew three), and they might need to perform in front of their fans to keep the Newcastle faithful faithful. The Falcons have suffered another big loss in the shape of Carl Hayman, and again there is a mismatch between the quality of outgoing players and that of the incoming players, so they might need to rely on vocal home support to get them through tight games.
One to watch:
Prop Jon Golding caught the eye last year with his solid scrummaging, impressive tackle counts and general omnipresence in the loose. So much so that he’s in the England Elite Squad, and another strong start to the season should see him in the mix for the Autumn Internationals – and having another talismanic prop will do no harm to Newcastle’s league campaign either.
Having unsuccessfully predicted their relegation for the last two seasons (sorry Newcastle fans!), we think they’ll do enough to finish ahead of the likes of Leeds and Exeter, but it will be another season of looking over their shoulder rather than up the ladder – 9th.