NEWCASTLE Falcons have been working hard this week on plugging the defensive holes which have seen them ship 11 tries in the last two games.

After winning their first three matches they have lost three on the trot and are determined to stop the rot at home to Saracens tomorrow.

Director of Rugby Rob Andrew said: "More than anything I want a really steely defensive performance. We know we are capable of it because we did it at the start of the season, and the players have been told in no uncertain terms that we have to up our game in that area.

"Even though our try-scoring has been good, we let in five tries at Wasps last week and made it easy for them. We believe we know what the problems are and have been doing a lot of work defensively this week."

It could have been four successive defeats as the Falcons only just edged to victory at home to Harlequins, which was when their frailties began to surface following the injury to inside centre Mark Mayerhofler.

His organisational skills have been missed and with fellow centre Jamie Noon ruled out by a calf injury, Matt Burke will be outside Epi Taione in a new centre pairing tomorrow.

Mayerhofler's absence hasn't helped Jonny Wilkinson to settle back into running a game from fly half as he has often appeared at centre, and the new England captain has also been hampered by a badly-bruised bicep.

Continuing with the 19st 5lb Taione at No 12 is bound to be seen as a gamble, but Andrew said: "Going forward he has been very good. He was involved in almost everything we created against Leiecester, then last week at Wasps he made a try for Jamie Noon and scored one himself.

"We know there are some issues defensively and we have worked on them, but I think he has a lot of potential as a centre and it will be interesting to see him alongside Matt and Jonny."

Burke, whose place at full back goes to Dave Walder, has played at centre for Australia and Taione said: "Playing alongside him is going to be another big challenge.

"It came as a shock being selected at inside centre and at this level there's no time so you have to adapt straightaway.

"It's hard for any ball-carrier to play behind a pack that's going backwards. But the tight five have been working hard this week and will lay the foundation. We are confident we can take Saracens on there and win."

While admitting that Wilkinson has a "dead arm", Andrew played down the injury, saying: "He picked it up in our pre-season match against Connacht and it has absolutely nothing to do with his previous injury.

"It's not serious, but it's painful if he gets whacked on it. He has not done any contact training this week, but overall I think he's doing really well.

"He's getting back into the physicality of the Premiership, but he has probably stuttered a bit in recent games because the team collectively has."

Although they finished one place above Saracens last season, the Falcons lost twice to the Londoners, by five points on both occasions.

This season they have identical records of three wins and three defeats and the visitors will be determined to continue their recent improvement following their heavy recruitment.

As well as taking Hugh Vyvyan from Newcastle, they brought in seven players from Sale Sharks, plus Dan Scarbrough from Leeds and fly half Mark Bartholomeusz from ACT Brumbies.

They also retained former All Black Taine Randell in the back row, plus French star Thomas Castaignede, who has been playing at centre with Scarbrough at full back.

Vyvyan played 108 Premiership matches for Newcastle and skippered them to the Powergen Cup last season, and Andrew said: "No doubt our players will want to tackle him hard.

"But you can't just focus on one player. Hugh was very popular here and we wish him well. It's a professional sport and people move on, but we have to concentrate on the game and not let him dominate our thoughts.

"Saracens have a number of quality players and played well in beating Northampton last week. This game gives us the right platform for next week's Heineken Cup match at Newport."

l Sir Clive Woodward believes Andy Robinson will create his own vision of how English rugby should be taken forward.

Woodward, speaking immediately after Robinson's official appointment as England's head coach, gave his former number two his full backing and confirmed that he believes that he is the right man for the job.

''I'm very very pleased for Andy, he deserves it,'' said Woodward.

''He'll have my full support from the outside. It's a difficult job but I'm sure they've chosen the right guy and I look forward to seeing how he gets on. I'm really looking to Andy now to move things on to the next level.''

Woodward revealed that one of the factors in his own decision to relinquish the England job was that he thought Robinson deserved the chance to show what he is capable of in the top job.