DEAN RICHARDS is hoping to put an end to Newcastle Falcons’ semi-final heartbreaks when his side take on Northampton Saints for a place in the Premiership Rugby Cup final tomorrow afternoon.

Last season, Falcons lost at the semi-final stage in three separate competitions, and while the Premiership Cup might not be at the top of Richards’ priority list given his side’s position at the foot of the Gallagher Premiership table, the director of rugby sees tomorrow’s game as an opportunity to finally close in on some silverware.

“We had three semi-finals last season in various tournaments, but we want to go one further and make it to a final, and it would be nice to be able to do that,” said Richards, whose only trophy in his time as Falcons chief was the Championship title.

“The clubs seem to have bought in to the Premiership Rugby Cup as a competition, and as a consequence you’re getting worthwhile games.”

Skipper Will Welch returns to the starting side tomorrow, and will pack down at blindside flanker in a team that shows seven changes from the team that beat Sale Sharks in the quarter-finals last weekend.

That victory enabled Falcons to progress as pool winners following an unbeaten record from their four rounds of Premiership Cup matches.

Fijian international Nemani Nagusa joins Welch in the back row as the Falcons attempt to claim a fourth successive victory at Franklin’s Gardens, with their most recent success at Northampton’s home having come in the Premiership at the start of December.

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Brett Connon is paired with Sonatane Takulua, above, in the half-backs

Calum Green joins the second row, David Wilson starts at tight-head prop, and Brett Connon is paired with Sonatane Takulua in the half-backs. Vereniki Goneva starts on the wing after scoring in his first involvement from the bench last weekend, with Zach Kibirige continuing on the other wing as he aims to add to a personal tally of four tries in two Premiership Rugby Cup games this season.

“Our record down in Northampton over the last few years hasn’t been too bad,” said Richards, whose side spent the first three days of this week on a training camp in the Cumbrian town of Kendal.

“We’ll go down there with no fear, although at the same time respecting what Northampton are about and the quality they have within their squad. They’ve got a new head coach this season who offers something slightly different, they have threats across the board and it will be a difficult game.

“It was a good game last weekend over at Sale Sharks, the boys turned up and it wasn’t a bad Sale team when you look at the side they had out. It wasn’t far off being their first-choice pack, obviously they had a number of backs away, and it was a good match-up. I thought we fronted up across the board and dealt with them pretty well.”