PETER Stringer will make his Newcastle Falcons debut this evening as the club's relegation battle enters a critical phase.
Falcons travel to Worcester Warriors looking to close the eight-point gap that currently separates them from safety.
They have just five more matches in which to overhaul London Wasps, and while they are still to claim an Aviva Premiership away win this season, their prospects of survival will be slim if they are
unable to claim at least a losing bonus point tonight.
Stringer's availability should help, with the former Ireland scrum-half set to make his first start since joining Falcons on loan from Munster earlier this month.
The 34-year-old completed a three-month spell at Saracens three weeks ago and will form an experienced half-back pairing with skipper Jimmy Gopperth.
"When we were talking about bringing him in we understood that to execute our game-plan then we need to get the ball into Jimmy Gopperth's hands pretty quickly," said Falcons defence coach Mike
"The guy has got a world-class pass which is accurate and quick, and from my side of things I needed a guy who has got experience.
"He has 98 Irish caps and he knows when to fill in the defensive line, when to cover and when to kick. In the meetings and on the training field he brings so much to the table and hopefully he can
show that in a match situation."
In total, director of rugby Gary Gold has made seven changes to the side that was held to a 9-9 draw with Harlequins in Falcons' last outing.
Matt Thompson replaces the suspended Rob Vickers at hooker, while Euan Murray returns to the front row after recovering from a calf injury.
Deadline-day signing James Goode partners Tim Swinson in the second row, Alex Tait starts for the first time since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in November and Corne Uys is back
following a rib problem.
Jeremy Manning rounds off the changes as he occupies the full-back berth, with Greg Goosen dropping to the bench.
"Worcester are where they are in the league because they are tough to beat, especially at home," said Ford. "Richard Hill is a smart operator and he might feel disappointed that his side are not
higher up the table, but he will be delighted that they are not in this relegation fight.
"This is one of those games where we know what is coming and we know what we have to do to beat them. We have to win the ruck, and attack-wise we are going to have to speed things up."
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: Manning , Uys, Helleur, Fitzpatrick, Tait, Gopperth, Stringer; Golding, Thompson, Murray, Swinson, Goode, Tu'ifua, Welch, Hogg.
Replacements: Graham, Shiells, Wells, Fondse, Wilson, Chudley, Goosen, Sheriffe.