NEWCASTLE Falcons insist they are ready to host Lyon in Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup opener despite the French club being hit by mumps.
Lyon’s last two league games have been cancelled because of the outbreak, with last Saturday’s home tie against Montpellier and the previous weekend’s trip to Begles-Bordeaux both being scrapped on health grounds.
Newcastle have already sought medical advice over the issue, with head coach Alan Tait saying: “It must be serious over there with the mumps, but we definitely want the game on.
“Our team doctors have said that as long as we are jabbed up from when we were kids we will be OK, so everybody has been checking their records to see what, if anything, they need to do.
“There have been a few phone calls from players to parents asking what injections they had when they were babies, which is a bit unusual for a professional sportsman, but we are working closely with the medics and we don’t anticipate any problem.”
Tait intends to use the Amlin Challenge Cup as a means for delivering more game-time to some of his fringe figures, with Saturday’s home date followed up by a trip to Italian champions Petrarca Padova.
“It will be another chance for some of the guys to get a run-out, and that is important to keep them ticking over,” said the Scot.
“The likes of Will Chudley at scrum-half will be in line to get some game time, and presuming the match does go ahead I will be looking to get a few more of the lads out there.”
As well as their mumps outbreak, Saturday’s visitors from Lyon could well be forgiven for having other things on their mind at the moment. Newly-promoted from France’s second tier in the summer, their 10 league games so far have yielded only two victories as they sit second-bottom above Biarritz.
The ProD2 champions lack no financial clout, however, and their expensively-assembled squad includes a host of familiar names.
One with North East connections is Christian Short, the former Gosforth lock-forward who has already appeared against Newcastle for Irish province Connacht, English Premiership side Northampton Saints and French club Brive. Ex-England full-back Mark Van Gisbergen is also on Lyon’s books, along with Welsh centre Lee Thomas, English flanker Luke Abraham and London Irish’s former Argentine flanker Juan Leguizamon.
Raphael Saint-Andre – brother of new France coach Philippe – is their sporting director, while other familiar names include South African international scrum-half Enrico Januarie and Fijian centre Kameli Ratuvou.
Lyon will be bidding to become only the second French team to win at Kingston Park in 24 attempts. Brive and Montpellier are the only French clubs to have left the North East victorious, and they find themselves up against a Falcons squad fresh from Friday’s nail-biting draw against relegation rivals Worcester Warriors.
Replacement hooker Michael Mayhew saved the day with his late try to tie the teams up, and Tait revealed that he could be set to sit down for contract talks with the New Zealander in the near future.
“Richard came to us on a short-term deal with Matt Thompson out due to a shoulder operation, and Rob Vickers sidelined with his knee,” said the head coach.
“He is a good lad who gets stuck in, and if anything the club owes him one after Friday night. He is here until Christmas at the moment, but maybe it is time now that we sat him down and started talking about what happens after that.
“To be fair to him he has not been knocking on my door to pester me – he just gets on quietly with his business – but it is something we will have to make a decision on in the next few weeks.”