Sami set to home in on Euro glory on French quest
MAVINGA GETS THE NOD FOR FALCONS’ BIG TEST
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