FORMER Dalziel and Glasgow Hawks prop Gary Strain is set to make his Aviva Premiership debut tonight as England’s top league gets underway.
Strain, who won a number of Scotland under-20 caps in 2008, has been named on the bench for newly promoted Newcastle Falcons’ home encounter with Bath (7.45pm kick-off).
It caps a rapid rise for the man who learned his trade at Dalziel before leaving them in 2007 to play for Hawks. For the last two seasons he has been playing for RC Massy in France.
He has impressed Falcons head coach Dean Richards while on trial at Kingston Park and could come on for his competitive debut tonight.
The Falcons will be led by Scotland cap Ally Hogg from No8, with fellow countrymen Mike Blair, Phil Godman and Scott MacLeod also starting.
Bath head north with five new signings in their ranks – George Ford, Matt Garvey, Leroy Houston, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson all involved.
Newcastle’s Will Welch is hoping to get the season off to a strong start. “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 make a good start,” said the 23-year-old flanker.
“But Newcastle and Kingston Park is one of the toughest places to come in the Premiership and we want to get that first win under our belts. It’s an advantage being at home first up, especially on a Friday night because it’s not the nicest place to come up to. To get that first win will be massive for confidence and we’re looking in good shape and I’m pretty confident we can do it.”
Tonight’s floodlit encounter 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 middle.
Tomorrow the opening weekend continues, including a double header at Twickenham.
London Irish take on Saracens at 2pm with Scotland cap Duncan Taylor set to be involved for the latter. And, at 4.30pm, London Wasps face Harlequins with Scot Neil Cochrane in the mix to make his debut for Wasps after the 29-year-old hooker did well during pre-season after moving from Bedford Blues.
Also tomorrow, Gloucester take on Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints host Exeter while, on Sunday, champions Leicester Tigers are at home to Worcester.