Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership, April 15
Falcons face test of character against Saints
April 14, 2011
Northampton's Joe Ansbro takes on the Newcastle defence during their clash at Franklin's Gardens earlier in the season © Getty Images
Newcastle will resume their bid for Aviva Premiership survival against title-chasing Northampton at Kingston Park on Friday night.
The Falcons find themselves propping up the table for the first time since 2003 thanks to an agonising 30-29 defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Leeds last weekend. That result - their fourth loss in a row in all competitions - left them one point adrift at the bottom but they have a vital game in hand on their relegation rivals.
If Newcastle are to bounce back to winning ways they are going to have to do it against a Northampton side fresh from booking their place in this season's Heineken Cup semi-finals with a 23-13 victory over Ulster. The stadium:mk triumph was their fourth on the spin, leaving them in the last play-off spot and on course for a notable league and cup double. But they have lost three of their last four away outings in the league and will need to add weight to their recent revival if they are to cement their place in the title picture.
Newcastle - Player to Watch: Every point earned between now and the end of the season is huge for the Falcons. Expect fly-half Jimmy Gopperth to shoulder much of that pressure.
Newcastle - Team News: Newcastle have made three changes, with Tom Catterick getting the nod at fullback ahead of the injured Jeremy Manning. Gcobani Bobo starts on the wing as Alex King shifts to the opposite flank in place of Luke Fielden. James Fitzpatrick is in at inside-centre with Tane Tuipolutu moving to No.13 and Luke Eves dropping to the bench.
Northampton - Player to Watch: Lock Courtney Lawes produced a Man of the Match display last weekend and will be keen to back that up as he continues to press for an England return.
Northampton - Team News: Northampton make one change to the side that booked a Heineken Cup semi-final date with Perpignan last weekend. Calum Clark comes in at blindside with Phil Dowson switching to openside and Tom Wood dropping to the bench.
Key Battle: Newcastle defence should settle this one, with their attempts to shackle a Northampton side that has rediscovered their cutting edge vital. Can the Falcons stand toe-to-toe with a fired up Saints pack and at the same time keep pace with their ball-hungry backs?
Trivia: Prop Soane Tonga'uiha's try against Ulster last weekend was his sixth for the Saints this season but his first since October.
Stats: The Saints have won their last three matches with the Falcons since Newcastle won 19-13 at Franklin's Gardens on February 28, 2009.
"Instead of kicking to touch to finish the half, somebody decides we are going to boot the ball downfield straight to the Leeds players who then went and scored. He has apologised after the game, but I'm sick of hearing it. These are experienced players that I have brought in, but it's just utter madness." - Falcons boss Alan Tait slams fullback Jeremy Manning's moment of madness against Leeds.
"Newcastle are fighting for their lives and will battle throughout the full 80 minutes and beyond. We are right at the business end of the season and a point here or there really matters to every team whether you are at the top or the bottom of the league." - Saints boss Jim Mallinder refuses to dwell on the Saints' latest euro triumph.
Fantasy: Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson was among the tries last weekend and if you think he can carry that form back onto the domestic stage then perhaps he should be in your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game line-up?
Prediction: Northampton have re-discovered the winning habit and will crank through the gears to heap pressure on the Falcons.
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