Sami set to home in on Euro glory on French quest

MAVINGA GETS THE NOD FOR FAL­CONS’ BIG TEST

The Chronicle - - Rugby Union - Dean Richards

FRENCH prop Sami Mavinga starts for New­cas­tle Fal­cons to­mor­row as they re­turn to his home­land to face Toulon in the open­ing round of the Heineken Cham­pi­ons Cup.

Mavinga joins a fresh­ened-up front row as New­cas­tle play their first Cham­pi­ons Cup game for 14 sea­sons, join­ing Kyle Cooper and David Wil­son in the start­ing spots as part of a side con­tain­ing 10 changes from their last out­ing at Sale Sharks.

A num­ber of those are en­forced, with cap­tain Will Welch suf­fer­ing an an­kle in­jury which is ex­pected to side­line him for the next cou­ple of months, fly-half Toby Flood miss­ing out due to a shoul­der in­jury and Vereniki Goneva be­ing side­lined fol­low­ing a head knock.

Alex Tait comes in at full-back and Tom Arscott re­places Goneva on the wing, Tom Penny slot­ting in at out­side cen­tre af­ter im­press­ing from the bench in re­cent weeks while Joel Hodg­son takes the No 10 shirt.

Will Witty and Glen Young start in the sec­ond row, the only other change com­ing in the back-row where Fiji No 8 Ne­mani Na­gusa is handed a first team de­but.

The former Auril­lac player scored on his first pre-sea­son out­ing against Don­caster af­ter join­ing the club late in the sum­mer, and was again on the score-sheet dur­ing his come­back game in the Pre­mier­ship Rugby Shield win over Northamp­ton just un­der a fort­night ago.

Por­tuguese in­ter­na­tional cen­tre Pe­dro Bet­ten­court is poised to make his first­team de­but as a re­place­ment af­ter join­ing from

French club Car­cas­sonne, more than half of the Fal­cons’ match­day squad hav­ing come through the club’s academy – eight in the start­ing XV and a fur­ther four on the bench.

New­cas­tle and Toulon have met just twice in Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion, both games dur­ing the 2011-12 Chal­lenge Cup group stage when the Fal­cons tri­umphed 6-3 at Kingston Park Sta­dium be­fore go­ing on to lose the re­turn leg.

Di­rec­tor of rugby Dean Richards said: “Play­ing rugby in the south of France on these big Euro­pean week­ends is some­thing a bit spe­cial, and the play­ers will re­spond to that.

“The at­mos­phere in Toulon is as

Play­ing rugby in the south of France on these big Euro­pean week­ends is a bit spe­cial

good as any, and we just want to get out there and en­joy it. “Whether they’ll be on a sim­i­lar sort of foot­ing this time round as when they were fly­ing high a cou­ple of sea­sons ago re­mains to be seen, be­cause they’re third from bot­tom in the Top 14 and strug­gling a lit­tle bit.

“We’ll see what hap­pens in that re­gard, but on pa­per they’re a fan­tas­tic team. They spend prob­a­bly 20 mil­lion more than us so you’d ex­pect them to be, but for what­ever rea­son they’re not per­form­ing at the mo­ment.

“Toulon are un­doubt­edly a good side when they turn it on, they can be out­stand­ing at times and we need to make sure we’re on top of our own game. We know where their strengths are, where their weak­nesses are and it will be a very in­ter­est­ing con­test.

“If we’re on song and we play well I see no rea­son why we can’t come away with the win.”

Ex­plain­ing his se­lec­tion, Richards said: “Toby Flood will be out for a lit­tle while, Will Welch will be long term un­for­tu­nately but it’s just one of those things.

“That’s the na­ture of the sport, you get in­juries dur­ing the sea­son and it’s an op­por­tu­nity for the guys who are com­ing in. It’s not a case of fo­cus­ing on the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion over the Euro­pean, be­cause we be­lieve we have a strong enough squad to do both.”

Fal­cons’ Sami Mavinga in ac­tion against Worces­ter in the Pre­mier­ship

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