Stage set for basement battle
April 8, 2011
Newcastle's Luke Fielden holds off Leeds' Phil Swainston during their Premiership clash in February © Getty Images
The Aviva Premiership's bottom two clash at Kingston Park on Saturday in a game that is set to go a long way to deciding who is relegated from the top flight at the end of the season.
Twice postponed over the festive period, the ensuing months have done little to alleviate the pressure on these two clubs with Leeds still propping up the table with the Falcons currently two points above them with a priceless game in hand. But Leeds showed signs of life with victory over Exeter last time out while Newcastle have lost their last three games in all competitions and one more will see them prop up the Premiership table up for the first time March 2003.
Leeds' three Premiership victories this season have all come at home and they have not tasted success on the road since a victory over London Irish in April last year. The Falcons can also draw hope from their 22-5 victory over their rivals back in February that will serve as a significant psychological edge ahead of this return clash.
Newcastle - Player to Watch: The return of top try scorer Luke Fielden will be key for a Falcons side that has failed to cross the whitewash in their last two Premiership outings.
Newcastle - Team News: Fullback Jeremy Manning returns from injury suffered against Harlequins last month in one of five changes to the starting line-up. Fielden returns to the right wing, while Alex Tait switches from fullback to the other flank, with Tane Tu'ipulotu occupying inside centre. Jonny Golding starts in the front row alongside Matt Thompson, with giant Kiwi lock Andrew Van der Heijden partnering Tim Swinson in the engine room. James Hudson misses out through injury with fly-half Jimmy Gopperth handed the captaincy.
Leeds - Player to Watch: Fullback Michael Stephenson spent six seasons with the Falcons and returns to Kingston Park for the first time since making the switch to Leeds.
Leeds - Team News: Leeds have been able to name an unchanged 23 man squad for the first time this season. No.8 Alfie To'oala, who scored in the 16-15 win at Newcastle last season, is one of six players still in the starting line-up from that game.
Key Battle: In what is sure to be a tense encounter, the battle of the boot between prolific Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth and in-form Leeds No.10 Adrian Jarvis is sure to be pivotal.
Trivia: Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth averages 12 points a game against Leeds in the Premiership.
Stats: Newcastle have notched just 21 tries in this season's Premiership - a figure beaten by all their rivals including Leeds who have 22 to their name.
"A significant number of Leeds fans will be attending the game so it will be fantastic to see so many of our fans coming to Kingston Park to get behind the team creating a passionate North East atmosphere." - Falcons boss Alan Tait is wary of a Leeds invasion
"We have won three games out of 18 and we need to win two of our last four games as a minimum which shows the size of the job still in front of us." - Leeds coach Neil Back sets the target for his side
Fantasy: Newcastle's Jimmy Gopperth is the third highest points scorer in the Premiership this season and a bankable No.10 for the ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game.
Prediction: Leeds to rediscover how to win on the road - but only just.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler