Newcastle's director of rugby, Rob Andrew, has put his faith in youth for the new Zurich Premiership season – but this afternoon's home game against his former club Wasps might prompt an early rethink.
Following the departure of Gary Armstrong, Inga Tuigamala, Pat Lam, Doddie Weir and George Graham, the Falcons will field a back line without a player older than 25. Liam Botham, the senior partner, switches to full-back for Dave Walder who broke a leg during a pre-season match against Edinburgh.
Meanwhile, the London club have Lawrence Dallaglio and Rob Howley in harness at club level for the first time, at No 8 and scrum-half.
Pieter Rossouw, capped 42 times by South Africa, will make his London Irish debut on the wing against Bath today. But the Exiles' player-coach Brendan Venter is sidelined by an Achilles injury. In an echo of their problems last season, Bath are without Gareth Cooper, Mike Catt, Steve Borthwick, Andy Williams, Matt Perry and Iain Balshaw through injury while Dan Lyle is away on international duty with the US Eagles. Alessio Galassio, Ross Blake, Adam Vander, Jonathan Humphreys and Chris Malone will make their Bath debuts.
Rotherham, denied promotion despite winning last season's National League One, kick off their campaign today away to Yorkshire neighbours Otley. Their main rivals are again likely to be Worcester, who battled to a 29-23 victory at Coventry yesterday.
Exeter are top of the table after a 51-15 demolition of Wakefield in which Tony Yapp kicked 27 points, just ahead of Birmingham/Solihull, for whom the former Saracens fly-half Luke Smith supplied 18 points in a 35-10 win over London Welsh.
The New Zealand scrum-half Justin Marshall has nominated South Africa as the team to watch leading up to next year's World Cup. The 29-year-old, reflecting on the recent Tri-Nations series, said: "South Africa really surprised me. They have made real progress from last year and will have gained the most from this year's Tri-Nations. They should be better again when the World Cup comes round."
Details of the ticketing arrangements for the 2003 Rugby World Cup, which kicks off with the holders, Australia, taking on Argentina in Sydney on 3 October, will be released by the Australian Rugby Union on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old South African lock Phillip Clarke, who played for Bedford last season, is set to join the Italian side Ilcev Rovigo.
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