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Welch eyes flying start

Newcastle captain Will Welch is hoping to strike an early blow on his side's return to the Aviva Premiership when they face Bath at Kingston Park on Friday night.

Three familiar faces will make the trip to the north east for the season's opening clash, with former Falcons coaches Gary Gold and Mike Ford and former scrum-half Peter Stringer part of the travelling side keen to steal a march with an early away win.

Welch was handed the captaincy by Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards for the second consecutive season after he led the Falcons to promotion from the Championship at the first time of asking.

Now, the 23-year-old flanker is hoping to build on a strong pre-season which included a 21-21 draw with Bath in Beziers.

"Our first game will be tough," Welch told www.premiershiprugby.com.

"We know Gary and Mike from when they were up with us and they are a good set of coaches.

"We played them in our first pre-season game and they're a well drilled physical side so they'll be looking to come up to Newcastle and to make a good start.

"But likewise Newcastle and Kingston Park is one of the toughest place to come in the Premiership and we want to get that first win under our belts.

"I think it's an advantage being at home first up, especially on a Friday night because it's not the nicest place to come up at Newcastle.

"Obviously to get that first win will be massive for confidence reasons and we're looking in good shape and I'm pretty confident we can do it."

Friday night's game under the lights at Kingston Park will also mark the introduction of new laws at the scrum in the English top flight, which are being trialled in the northern hemisphere this season.

The adjusted rules force opposing props to bind fully onto each other before engagement and the scrum will only be active when the ball is fed, which scrum-halves must now do straight down the tunnel.

Referee Wayne Barnes, who has visited Premiership clubs throughout pre-season to assist them in implementing the rules, will take charge of the match.

For new Falcons flanker Andy Saull, however, the new scrum protocols are a side note in what he hopes will be a strong start to the season for the side he joined from Saracens this summer.

"We know what Bath are going to bring to the table, and we knew that when we played them in our first pre-season game," he told the club's official website.

"They might throw a few different moves at us or some different combinations, but we feel suitably prepared for their visit to the North East."

Bath captain Stuart Hooper hopes the players in his side who shone for England will bring that form back to the Premiership.

Kyle Eastmond, Rob Webber and new recruit Jonathan Joseph all did well in Stuart Lancaster's side this summer, and Hooper said: "I think it was brilliant for all the guys who went away on those tours with their countries and it was a massive opportunity for them to showcase their talents on the international stage," Hooper said.

"I think they all did fantastically well. And also when you have people going away with England they do come back with that new confidence, they do come back with new ideas and exposure to the game at the highest level and that can only help us as a club.

"Something we look to do more and more is promote our young players and get as many people as possible involved in the national squad."

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