Newcastle Falcons boss Steve Bates hopes to have a full hand to pick from for Friday's European Challenge Cup semi-final at Worcester Warriors - despite most of his star names missing last weekend's domestic action.
A depleted Falcons side fell at Sale Sharks on Sunday, but acting director of rugby Bates hopes to replenish the stocks with the expected return of England quartet Toby Flood, Jamie Noon, Jonny Wilkinson and Mathew Tait among others.
Flood (ankle), Wilkinson (concussion) and Noon (ankle) all missed Sunday's defeat with injury, while Tait, club captain Phil Dowson and All Black Carl Hayman were among the stars rested in anticipation for Friday's Sixways encounter.
"This game is now the focal point of our season, and we expect to be picking from a position of strength when we name our team later in the week," said Bates, the former England scrum half who has taken charge of the Falcons on an interim basis following the recent coaching changes at the club.
"Jonny Wilkinson picked up a concussion against London Irish the week before last and he will undergo tests in the week, while both Jamie and Toby have started running as they look to shake off ankle injuries. The hope is that all three will be available, and their presence will be vital as we look to secure a place in the final."
Newcastle defeated Worcester 15-12 when the two sides met at Kingston Park in domestic action back in January, with four penalties and a drop goal from Wilkinson securing the victory in a dogged encounter.
"We had to really scrap for the points that day, and Worcester had a few tries chalked off so we know they are a dangerous side capable of getting across the line," said Bates.
"After what was a tough start to the season for them they have found some great form of late, and only lost narrowly to a strong Bath side at the weekend so we know what sort of test awaits us down there with a big home crowd in their favour."
But with his stars fresh and rested up for the challenge, he said: "Despite playing on Sunday at Sale Sharks we should be in good shape, having left out a number of players with the Worcester game in mind.
"A Sunday to Friday turnaround is never easy, but having taken the decision to focus on the European Challenge Cup semi-final we believe the extra preparation and recovery time could well end up being the difference for what is a massive game in the context of our season.
"Reaching a European final not only gives our fans a great day out at the end of a tough campaign, but also offers the opportunity to secure Heineken Cup rugby for next season - and all that comes with it.
"Our season is all geared up towards this game, and I am expecting a huge effort from the boys on the night."
The directors of ERC voted unanimously at a Board meeting to postpone all decisions including the release of further instalments of ERC's distributable central revenues to the six shareholder countries until 19 February next when the Board will meet again to reconsider the issue.