Newcastle Falcons v Bath Rugby, Aviva Premiership, September 3
Bath eye return to the top
ESPNscrum Staff
September 2, 2011
Bath scrum-half Michael Claassens gets the plaudits after scoring against Harlequins, Bath v Harlequins, Aviva Premiership, The Recreation Ground, Bath, England, April 16, 2011
Bath will look to Michael Claassens (c) and Matt Carraro (l) for inspiration this season © Getty Images

Newcastle Falcons will hope to banish the memory of last season's nerve-shredding Premiership campaign with a commanding display against Bath at Kingston Park on Saturday.

The Falcons only stayed in the Premiership on point's difference last season with Leeds dropping through the trapdoor to the Championship at the end of a dramatic fight for survival. In a bid to prevent a repeat, coach Alan Tait has recruited heavily for the new season bringing in the likes of Auckland's Jamie Helleur and Otago's Ryan Shortland. Former Gloucester scrum-half Jordi Pasqualin has also been lured to the club to plug the hole left by England Saxons' Micky Young. The departure of prop Kieran Brookes and winger Charlie Amesbury have also left significant holes in the Falcons' ranks.

Bath have also lost a wealth of talent in the form of fly-half Butch James, back-row Luke Watson and centre Shontayne Hape while Danny Grewcock has opted for retirement. But they have recruited impressively for the new campaign with England lock Dave Attwood, former Sale flanker Carl Fearns and discarded All Blacks fly-half Stephen Donald among those lured to The Rec. Sir Ian McGeechan will take the helm on his own this season following the departure of Australian Steve Meehan and he will hope to bring his unique coaching approach to the West Country side who have flirted with the Premiership top four in the past few seasons.

Newcastle Falcons- Player to Watch: Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth was the major reason that the Falcons preserved their Premiership status last term and a lot will be riding on him again this season.

Newcastle Falcons - Team News: Greg Goosen starts at fullback, while explosive Samoan centre Jamie Helleur partners Luke Eves at the heart of the Falcons backline. Chris Pilgrim gets the nod at scrum-half ahead of Jordi Pasqualin, who sits amongst a strong replacements bench. New Kiwi recruit, Ryan Shortland misses out with a foot muscle tear and is expected to be back in action at the end of September. Hooker Matt Thompson has a left shoulder strain and is also out till the end of September, while front row partner Jonny Golding is suffering with a tear in his achilles, sidelining him until October. In addition, Redford Pennycook will have a scan on an arm injury sustained in training this week and Rikki Sheriffe has a hamstring strain.

Bath Rugby- Player to Watch: Singled out as one of our players to watch this season, flanker Carl Fearns looks destined for a big season.

Bath Rugby - Team News: Lock Ryan Caldwell, flanker Carl Fearns, and centre, Dan Hipkiss, will all get their first Premiership starts for their new club, having impressed in the pre-season games. Caldwell joins captain Stuart Hooper in the engine room, whilst Fearns lines up alongside Ben Skirving and Simon Taylor in the back row. Also making his first start for Bath is Academy prop, Kane Palma-Newport, who scrums down with David Flatman and Pieter Dixon in the front row. Michael Claassens and Sam Vesty are the pivots in the half backs, and Hipkiss continues his partnership with Ben Williams in the centres. Tom Biggs and Matt Carraro line up out wide on the wings, with Nick Abendanon completing the starting line-up at full-back.

Key Battle: Bath fullback Nick Abendanon was in impressive form last season and proved a key part of his side's attacking arsenal. But in opposite number Greg Goosen he faces a player with bags of Top 14 experience and a similar ability to break a game open.

Trivia: Newcastle have only defeated Bath once in the Premiership since 2004.

Stats: Bath have not been defeated at Kingston Park in their previous seven visits.

Quote Unquote:

"We have had Bath watched in their warm-up games and we have analysed them in detail, identifying where their strengths and weaknesses are. I know roughly how Sir Ian McGeechan likes to play and how he gets his forwards up for a game."
- Falcons boss Alan Tait is confident he has Bath's number

"We expect them to do things with a bit more ambition and confidence, and we have to match that. We know how we want to play and we know the shape we want to put out on the field."
- Sir Ian McGeechan knows Bath will not have everything their own way

Prediction: Bath traditionally do well during the World Cup - leading the league during the 2003 and 2007 campaigns - and they have an impressive record against the Falcons so expect the visitors to travel back to their lavish Farleigh House surroundings with a bonus point win in the bag.

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