Skipper back for Falcons

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by

NEWCASTLE Falcons welcome back skipper Will Welch for today's British and Irish Cup visit of Connacht Eagles.

They also give opportunities to Fijian fly half Waisea Luveniyali and centre James Fitzpatrick, while Tom Catterick returns at full back.

Flanker Welch, the 22-year-old Newcastle RGS product, has recovered from a back injury and said: "It's great to be back. It was not the best of starts for me this season, but I'm fighting fit and ready to go now."

With Andrew Higgins named on the wing there is no place for Zach Kibirige, who continued his prolific form by scoring two tries for the Falcons' Under 18s in midweek against a North Under 18s team which included Mowden Park winger Sean Brown and Barnard Castle School flanker Jonny Coser.

Victory for the Falcons today will seal their place in the quarter-finals of the competition but Director of Rugby Dean Richards is more concerned about the performance than the result.

"There's room for improvement and the players know that," he said.

"Clinical is the key word around the club at the moment. This match is nothing to do with the opposition - it is all about getting our style in place.

"We believe we have a style of rugby which suits any competition, but being clean in our execution of that is what we are asking of the players."

Although still unbeaten, the Falcons have been below their best recently, struggling to a 12-9 home win against London Scottish.

"Everyone thought the score was a lot closer than it ought to be, but then they beat our nearest challengers Bedford in their next game. That shows they are not a bad side," said Richards.

Blaydon are hoping Tynedale can do them a favour by winning at home to National One leaders Ealing Trailfinders.

The Londoners are three points ahead of Blaydon, who visit Fylde with Jason Smithson starting in the back row as Rob Bell has a hamstring injury. Gavin Jones is available and will provide back row cover on the bench.

With Keith Laughlin continuing his comeback in the second team, Blaydon's only casualties are scrum half Andy Davies and winger Frazer Wilson, who had a scan yesterday on his troublesome knee.

Also looking for a favour in National Two North are Darlington Mowden Park, who are hoping Westoe might make home advantage count against Hull Ionians.

The second-placed Humbersiders remain four points ahead of Mowden, who are without two of last week's backs for the trip to Dudley Kingswinford.

Centre Chris Peace has a hand injury so either Tom Hodgson or ex-Barnard Castle player Craig Dominick will take over, while Max Connon returns at full back for Chris McTurk, who has a shoulder problem.

West Hartlepool will be anxious to end a run of six defeats at home to Sandal, who are unbeaten in eight and have moved up to third in National Three North.

West recall Scott Butcher for injured winger Tom Armstrong and the bench features Andrew Cheslin after injury and Adam Coates on his return from holiday. Fifth-placed Billingham are unchanged for the trip to Rossendale.

In North One East fourth-bottom Middlesbrough will be desperate to pull clear of the team just below them, Keighley, who visit Acklam Park.

Boro are again without player-coach Richie Horton, with his cousin Chris deputising at hooker, while skipper Richie Barker is named on the bench because of doubts over his future availability.

Richard Lonsdale comes into the back row and there are two changes in the backs with Tom Bivens on the wing and Lewis Macsween at centre.

Darlington are unchanged for the trip to Sheffield, where they hope their much-improved defence will prevent a repeat of the 70-7 home defeat. The bench is strengthened by the return of prop Paul Shepherd and centre Ben Jordan.

In D and N One Stockton travel to mid-table Ponteland and hope to have Ritchie Brown fit to play at centre, with teenage winger Sean Jones making way .

Lichfield's Newcastle-born No 8 Sarah Hunter will captain England Women in this year's Six Nations Championship with Mowden Sharks' Katy McLean concentrating on England Sevens duties. England start the campaign against Scotland at Esher on February 2.

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