JOEL HODGSON will return from a six-month injury lay-off as Newcastle Falcons end their spell in the Gallagher Premiership with a home game against Bristol tomorrow.

Falcons’ relegation was confirmed when they lost at Gloucester a fortnight ago, but Hodgson’s return will ensure at least one positive aspect to their final outing in the top-flight.

The fly-half broke his leg in mid-November, and is likely to be a key performer as Dean Richards’ side attempt to bounce back from the Championship at the first time of asking next season.

“We’ll play Championship rugby next season, but we’re taking the bulk of the squad down with us, and it’ll be a really good squad which starts that Championship campaign,” said Richards. “This season has been a really odd one. On the face it, when you look at the fact you’ve only won six league games you could be forgiven for thinking the end of the season can’t come quick enough, but we’ve had some high points.

“Winning away in Toulon was a great effort, as was Montpellier at home the week after, but we haven’t consistently won the games on a regular basis in the league that we needed to.

“The games we were winning last season by three or four points haven’t gone our way to the same extent, and those small differences over a year end up making a huge difference to where you finish up.

“From an experience point of view we lost a huge amount going into this season, with people like Nili Latu, Ally Hogg, Scott Lawson, Bobby Vickers and Maxime Mermoz, who, although he didn’t play that much, he did play a part.

“Those kinds of boys weren’t around this season, and we’ve learnt the hard way that losing that volume of experience really does count, even if those guys are coming off the bench to see games home rather than starting.

“We’ve learnt a lot of other things as well – notably that we need to score more tries. I know it’s an obvious thing to say and it’s not through lack of endeavour, because the boys try their socks off and we’ve put in place what we think is a good game plan, but we’ve not scored the number of tries we wanted. We’re looking at that seriously, and we’re really addressing it ahead of next season.”

Newcastle (vs Bristol Bears, tomorrow, 4pm): Tait, Kibirige, Harris, Williams, Radwan, Hodgson, Young; Lockwood, McGuigan, Mulipola, Green, Robinson, Chick, Graham, Nagusa.

Replacements: Socino, Davison, D Wilson, Olmstead, Blamire, Stuart, Flood, Matavesi.