First league starts for duo as Plymouth Albion make changes
PLYMOUTH Albion will make seven changes to their team which lost at home to Bristol last weekend for tomorrow night's trip to unbeaten league leaders Newcastle Falcons (8pm).
Head coach Nat Saumi hands first Championship starts to young forwards Sam Matavesi and Tom Cowan-Dickie, while there are also returns for Rhodri McAtee, Lewis Warner, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Canadian duo Brett Beukeboom and Aaron Carpenter.
Making way through either injury, tiredness, loss of form or suspension are captain Sean-Michael Stephen, Paul Roberts, Bevon Armitage, Wayne Sprangle, Jon Vickers, Rupeni Nasiga and Jack Andrew.
Andrew has been suspended by Albion for three weeks after picking up a red card for his part in a brawl against Bristol last week.
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Stephen, Armitage, Vickers and Roberts have all started every league match for Albion this season.
Stephen (neck) and Armitage (ankle) are struggling with injuries, while Vickers and Roberts take a rest on the bench.
It will be the first league game Armitage has missed since joining Albion in the summer of 2011.
"Some players have not played well, some have played well but have played every game," said Saumi.
"I just think it is good for some new boys to come and stake a claim.
"We have not found any consistency and I think maybe a bit of complacency has been creeping in.
"But going into the next round (second half of the season) everything will be based on individual performances."
Henry Slade will start at fly-half tomorrow at Kingston Park.
It will be his first chance to wear Albion's number 10 shirt for more than a year.
He started there twice early last season, but then got injured and missed the rest of the campaign and this season he has been playing full-back.
But the Plymouth-born dual registered back did impress at fly-half for Exeter in their LV=Cup games against London Welsh and the Ospreys and he gets his chance to try to repeat that form against former Premiership club Newcastle.
"Paul Roberts has been playing well, but this is a chance for Henry to have a go at 10," said Saumi.
The Albion boss is also hoping hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie and Sam Matavesi will take their opportunities on their full league debuts.
Both players have made five replacement appearances for Albion in the Championship and started cup matches, but they have never started a league game.
"These boys have been training very well," said Saumi, whose team will be playing their last league match before Christmas tomorrow night.
"It will be good to see them having a start in the league. Hopefully, they will take their opportunities."
Saumi is pleased to be able to welcome back Beukeboom and Carpenter following international duty for Canada.
The Albion boss hopes Beukeboom's return will help with the line-out problems they had against Bristol.
"We have spent a lot of time on the line-out in training," said Saumi. "Hopefully, Brett coming back in should help as he is in charge of the line-out.
"Hopefully, we can start winning our lineouts again."
Despite the fact that Carpenter was named Albion's vice-captain at the start of the season, Sam Hocking will skipper the side tomorrow in Stephen's absence.
Saumi said: "Aaron is just coming back into the team, so we thought we would give it to Sam for the time being as he has been a very consistent performer for us."
ALBION: 15 Rhodri McAtee, 14 Lewis Warner, 13 Toby Howley-Berridge, 12 Keni Fisilau, 11 Tom Bowen, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Ruairi Cushion, 1 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 2 Tom Cowan-Dickie, 3 Lloyd Fairbrother, 4 Brett Beukeboom, 5 Harrison Tovey, 6 Sam Hocking (capt), 7 Sam Matavesi, 8 Aaron Carpenter. Reps: Paul Roberts, Jack Arnott, David Morton, Ben Rogers, Jon Vickers, Ien Ascroft-Leigh, Rupeni Nasiga.
NAT SAUMI has denied reports from Fiji that Albion have signed international full-back Simeli Koniferedi.
Fijian head coach Inoke Male told the Fiji Sun that Koniferedi was not returning home after touring Europe this month as he had sealed a deal with Albion.
But Saumi said: "It is not true. I did look at him as a full-back but he has gone home."
However, the Albion boss said he was still looking for extra cover at full-back after losing Louis Messer with injury.
"I am still looking, but it is quite hard at this point of the season," said Saumi.