PREMIERSHIP: NEWCASTLE FALCONS Vs LONDON IRISH (Philip van der Walt returns from injury) – RUGBY UNION
Philip van der Walt returns from injury as Newcastle Falcons make six changes for Friday’s visit of London Irish in the Premiership.
The South African (van der Walt) has not played since 29 January, 2022 as he has recovered from a knee injury.
Irish make three changes to the side that put 10 tries past Castres in the European Challenge Cup.
The Exiles won the reverse fixture 43-21 at the Brentford Community Stadium in December.
Joel Hodgson starts at fly-half for Newcastle after scoring from the bench in last week’s home loss to Glasgow Warriors as the Falcons were eliminated from the Challenge Cup.
Argentina wing Mateo Carreras and centre Max Wright are also added to the backline.
Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti starts at scrum-half and Callum Chick is in at number eight.
Van der Walt, who signed a new three-year contract with the club on Wednesday, starts in the second row.
Irish name the same back row that dismantled Castres 64-27 to set up a Challenge Cup quarter-final against Toulon.
Ollie Hoskins returns at prop while Matt Rogerson comes in to captain the side in the second row, with Albert Tuisue at number eight.
Victory could send Irish up to sixth in the table, while Newcastle could move up to 10th with a big bonus-point win.
Newcastle’s director of rugby Dean Richards told the club’s website: “I’ve often said that the Premiership is the most competitive club league in the world.
“Every game is up for grabs and you have to be on your mettle every single round, which is the beauty of the competition.
“We’re all new to this ring-fenced scenario, but we still go out there with the firm intention of winning every game we play.
“It changes nothing in that sense, and you put your best available side out every week with a view to winning each game. For various reasons we have not been able to do that for a lot of the middle part of the season, but we’re starting to get guys back and it’s nice to have that degree of consistency.”
London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney told the club’s website: “We only have three regular league games left in the Premiership this season and we know that every point counts in this tight league table.
“Heading up to Newcastle is always a tough fixture and we know that under the tutelage of Dean Richards, they are a difficult team to come up against, especially at home. The last time we travelled to Kingston Park, we lost 52-27, so we are fully aware of their ability.
“It’s another Friday night fixture for us, and we know that there will be a good atmosphere at Kingston Park come kick-off tomorrow night.”
Newcastle: Penny; Carreras, Wacokecoke, Wright, Stevenson, Hodgson, Nordli-Kelemeti; Brocklebank, McGuigan, Davison; Van der Walt, Robinson, Basham, Welch (capt); Chick.
Replacements: Blamire, Cooper, Tampin, Lockwood, Graham, Schreuder, Haydon-Wood, Radwan.
London Irish: Parton; Rowe, Rona, Van Rensburg, Hassell-Collins, Jackson; Phipps; Goodrick-Clarke, Creevy, Hoskins; Simmons, Coleman, Rogerson (capt), Pearson; Tuisue.
Replacements: Cornish, Gigena, 18 Van der Merwe, Mafi, O’Brien, White, Joseph, Arundell.
Referee: Karl Dickson