NEWCASTLE Falcons head coach Alex Codling has praised Exeter Chiefs ahead of their Gallagher Premiership clash at Kingston Park on Sunday (3pm).
Codling told www.newcastlefalcons.co.uk: “I’ve been really impressed with Exeter. They’ve had some great results and they play a good brand of rugby.
"They’ve lost a lot of experience but they’ve got some good lads coming through their academy or brought in from elsewhere, and that’s very much the blueprint for ourselves moving forward.
“We’ll have to be unbelievably physical, really accurate and combat Exeter’s fantastic line-speed. We have to be smart in what we do, and as I’ve said from day one I want us to move the ball with a really attacking mind-set.”
Louie Johnson makes his first Gallagher Premiership start. The 20-year-old Cumbrian has played nine games for the club and made his top-flight debut from the bench last Friday when the Falcons claimed a four-try bonus point at league leaders Sale Sharks.
Johnson starts at fly-half in a side showing seven changes from the one which started in Salford, with Argentina trio Eduardo Bello, Pedro Rubiolo and Matias Moroni all returning to the team.
Wing Adam Radwan and hooker Jamie Blamire both return from injury, while Tom Penny comes in at full-back. County Durham native James Elliott continues at scrum-half after impressing on his first-team debut last weekend, with fellow Jersey old boy John Hawkins pushing up into the second row.
Cameron Hutchison retains his place in the centres having helped get Newcastle over the gain-line at Sale, and Callum Chick captains the team just a day after his 27th birthday.
Iwan Stephens continues on the left wing, with the Yorkshireman scoring six tries in six games this season, and Louis Brown is among the replacements having scored on his Premiership debut last Friday.
Codling explained: “It’s been a really difficult selection because I wanted to recognise the efforts last week at Sale, but also knowing we had quite a few guys ready to come in. So it’s been about finding that balance of rewarding the guys who showed up well last Friday, and it’s the most agonising I’ve done over a selection for a long while.
“Some of these selections might surprise a few people on the outside, but I back these players. They’ve got massive potential, and the only way they’ll grow and learn is by playing in games like this. Of course there’s pressure, but there’s pressure in every Premiership game.”
Having seen his side taking a bonus point away at Sale Sharks last Friday, Codling added: “People might look in from the outside and go ‘they’re zero from six, it must be all doom and gloom’, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“I was really proud of the performance on Friday night, if not the ending, and the players have been great during the week. I thought we were fantastic for large parts of the game, and we just need to tighten up in terms of how we close them out.
“With the exception of the Saracens game, which is no disgrace against the reigning champions, we’ve been really competitive in all our matches, and it’s just about taking that next step.”
Newcastle: Tom Penny, Adam Radwan, Matias Moroni, Cameron Hutchison, Iwan Stephens, Louie Johnson, James Elliott; P Brantingham, Jamie Blamire, Eduardo Bello, J Hawkins, Kiran McDonald, Pedro Rubiolo, Guy Pepper, Callum Chick (captain). Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Adam Brocklebank, Murray McCallum, Philip van der Walt, Sam Cross, Hugh O’Sullivan, Rory Jennings, Louis Brown.