Guinness Premiership
Regan return boosts Bristol's survival hopes
February 12, 2009
Bristol and England hooker Mark Regan, March 25 2007
Bristol's Mark Regan returns against the Newcastle Falcons © Getty Images

Mark Regan returns to boost the Bristol line-up as the Premiership's bottom side take on 11th placed Newcastle Falcons at the Memorial Stadium on Friday night.

Regan has been out for over a month since limping off with a calf injury against Northampton on January 3. Luke Arscott and Alfie To'oala are back in the starting line-up after doubts about their fitness while on the bench Joe El Abd has made a swift recovery from a torn bicep injury and Luke Eves returns after being released by the England U20 squad.

The Falcons are just a place above Bristol on the table, although 7 points to the better, in a game that could ultimately decide who will be relegated come the end of the season. The Bristol head coach, Richard Hill is under no illusions as to the significance of Friday's game.

"It's absolutely pivotal. I'm certainly not going to play down the importance of the game to the players. If Newcastle beat us, they'll potentially open up an 11 point gap which would be difficult to pull back at this stage of the season," he said. "On the positive side, if we beat Newcastle, then the momentum will definitely be with us. They'll be looking over their shoulders and we'll be looking to press on."

Newcastle have shuffled their backline although Tom May retains his fly half berth, Jamie Noon returns from international duty to slot in at centre, Alex Tait moves from wing to fullback and John Rudd comes onto the wing.

England Saxons duo David Wilson and Phil Dowson return to the pack as does Carl Hayman who is back after recently getting married in New Zealand. Mark Sorenson is out through injury and his spot in the second-row will be filled by Geoff Parling.

The Falcons Director of Rugby, Steve Bates, doesn't believe that this game is as do-or-die as many have been saying though. "I can understand why people outside of the club are billing it as that, but the reality is that it is the 13th match of a 22-game season. The players all know that this is a situation where the bottom team is playing the second-bottom team, and they don't need any reminding of that from me.

"What we need to do is to be in the best possible mental state to play the game. We're going to have 300 or so supporters there making a racket, it's being billed as a big fixture in the press and it should be a great occasion," he said.

"The most important thing is that a win on Friday gets us looking up the table, and if we get those points then we're not that far off seventh and eighth place. We're looking at this game very positively as being a real springboard for our season. We know it will be tough, but we have clear goals and a gameplan to get the job done.

Bristol: Luke Arscott; Lee Robinson, Nathan Brew, Neil Brew, David Lemi; Ed Barnes, Shaun Perry; Mark Irish, Mark Regan, Darren Crompton; Roy Winters, Nathan Budgett; Matt Salter (captain), Alfie To'oala, Dan Ward-Smith

Replacements: David Blaney, Wayne Thompson, Dave Attwood, Joe El Abd, Graeme Beveridge, Adrian Jarvis, Luke Eves

Newcastle Falcons: Alex Tait, Danny Williams, Jamie Noon, Tane Tu'ipulotu, John Rudd, Tom May, Micky Young, David Wilson, Rob Vickers, Carl Hayman, Tim Swinson, Geoff Parling, Phil Dowson (captain), Ed Williamson, Adam Balding

Replacements: Matt Thompson, Jon Golding, Andy Perry, Brent Wilson, Hall Charlton, Rory Clegg, Spencer Davey


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