NEWCASTLE FALCONS have been the form team in the Aviva Premiership in the last two months, but Dean Richards’ side face arguably their toughest test of the season tomorrow as they head to Saracens.

Falcons have won nine of their last ten matches in all competitions, winning four on the spin in the league and reaching the knock-out stages of both the European Challenge Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup.

They return to Premiership duty at Allianz Park, and will be looking to end an 18-game losing run against Saracens, who have named a strong starting XV despite the absence of their Six Nations internationals.

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Falcons’ most recent defeat to Sarries came in Philadelphia in September when their ‘home’ game was switched to the United States, and while his players underperformed after crossing the Atlantic, Richards is confident they will deliver a strong showing tomorrow.

“We’re smarting a bit from the game out in Philadelphia because we don’t feel we gave a good account of ourselves, but we’ve got our act together and will give them a really good test,” said the Falcons director of rugby.

“Even with a number of guys away, Saracens can still put out a virtual international pack, their backline is hardly hit by Six Nations call-ups and it’s a difficult place to go. Having said that, we’re playing well at the moment, there’s a buzz about the place and there’s no reason we shouldn’t go down there and cause problems.

“We’re playing well, and it will be a really interesting game. It’s not my style to say we’re going down there and we’ll win, but we’ll certainly give it our all. If we do that and give a true reflection of our ability, then we give ourselves a chance.”

The last couple of months have underlined the depth of quality that now exists within the Falcons squad, with Richards having chopped and changed on a regular basis as his side has flitted between competitions.

There are unlikely to be as many alterations as the season heads towards its business end, but if there are to be injuries and suspensions in the next few weeks, Richards knows he can rely on whoever he brings into the team.

“We’ve had a good couple of months,” he said. “With jumping between competitions, we have used a number of guys during that period and our squad depth has shown up well.

“We have not been hindered by having guys away or rotating our team. The players coming in have not looked out of place, the senior players have helped them, but a lot of it is down to the quality of our youngsters.”

One player who has made a particularly strong impression is Ryan Burrows, and the former Yorkshire Carnegie captain will make his first Premiership start for Falcons tomorrow after featuring in all ten of the club’s cup matches.

Ally Hogg makes his first league start of the season after appearing five times from the bench, with Nili Latu completing the back row line-up as Gary Graham, Mark Wilson and Will Welch all miss out because of injury.

Michael Young will wear the captain’s armband as he partners Joel Hodgson in the half-backs, with Toby Flood missing out as he completes his return to play protocols following last weekend’s head knock against Gloucester.

Tom Penny starts at outside centre after impressing in cup action, Juan Pablo Socino returns to the midfield as Josh Matavesi misses out, and Sinoti Sinoti is back on the wing partnering Vereniki Goneva. Rob Vickers comes in at loose-head prop, with Calum Green and Will Witty paired in the second row.

Newcastle Falcons (vs Saracens): Hammersley, Goneva, Penny, JP Socino, Sinoti, Hodgson, Young; Vickers, Cooper, S Wilson, Green, Witty, Burrows, Latu, Hogg.

Replacements: S Socino, Lockwood, Davison, Olmstead, Chick, Takulua, Mermoz, Tait.