As tempting as the nine-point start given to Newcastle on the handicap is, Bristol look the team to back in Friday’s New Year’s Day offering at Ashton Gate.
The north-east side have done magnificently well to win all their games so far on their return to the top flight of English rugby and they are currently one point and one point better off than Bristol in second place in the Gallagher Premiership table.
One of the key reasons behind their success, we feel, has been the 9, 12, 13 axis of scrum-half and captain Michael Young, Toby Flood and Luther Burrell.
All three are into their 30s in respect of age and the calm assuredness they bring to an otherwise youthful Newcastle backline has been telling.
Neither Young or Burrell make the long trip to the West Country, however, while Flood, who is enjoying a renaissance at inside centre, reverts back to his usual position of 10.
The Bears will look to press hard on the former England playmaker and cut down his time and options and it will be interesting to see how this affects his decision making.
Another positive has been the strength in the carry and in the hits of No.8 Gary Graham, who is another notable absentee. Philip van der Walt has a lot to live up to.
Elsewhere, Newcastle may look to profit on the relative inexperience of RL convert, Siva Naulago, on the right wing and, as such, Ben Stevenson at 5/2 to be an anytime try-scorer might be worth a punt.
Newcastle’s defence this season has been coached by an individual well-versed in No.8 play in Nick Easter.
Easter has had a great impact so far in galvanising a squad that plays with such cohesiveness without the ball.
However, that defensive resolve will be fully tested today by a Bears side that has two of its key attacking weapons back in the starting XV: Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra and another – Luke Morahan – on the bench.
While Bristol’s front row looks suspect on paper, the loose five of Joe Joyce, Dave Attwood, Steven Luatua, Jack Heenan and Nathan Hughes will give them plenty of grunt and go-forward.
Our prediction is for the Falcons to keep it competitive in a close first half before Bristol storm to a two-score or more victory.