Head coach Peter Russell insists Newcastle Falcons will look to play with width in central France tonight, where they tackle Brive.
Having shaded a drab encounter by a single point in Romania last week the Falcons top the Amlin Challenge Cup’s Pool C standings, thanks to Brive’s shock draw at Italian outfit Calvisano.
Signalling an expansive approach against a Brive side they have met eight times in the past seven years, Russell said: “Stopping them at source is going to be a big part of the game, and our pack have been working pretty hard on that.
“Negating their line-out drive will be essential over there. The scrum is a pretty powerful weapon for them, but they cannot do what they want to do if they don’t have the ball.
“Our objective is getting the ball away from their big pack as quickly as we can, and keeping it there.”
Refreshed by a fortnight of European action after winning two of their five domestic matches, the Kiwi outlined his side’s approach to a competition often dragged down by mass changes and low crowds.
“The Amlin Challenge Cup is a chance for us to express what we want to do in the Premiership, without the repurcussions of relegation,” said Russell.
“We are trying to nail down the things we want to do against London Irish and Saracens, and it is a major opportunity for us to put those building blocks in place. Showing accuracy in these kinds of environments, away from home and outside of our comfort zone, is what we are after. The result will follow from there.”
The Falcons make eight changes from the side which toiled away in Romania, a match the head coach (pictured left) admits was a frustrating watch until Tom Catterick’s last-minute penalty.
“We knew Bucharest were going to come at us and, despite them not having been together very long, the thing that is probably easiest to put together was their defence,” he said.
“They didn’t have anything to really worry us in terms of their strike plays, but it was about getting through them. We probably went a little bit off our own page when it came to how we wanted to play, hitting them round the corner to tire them out.
“We didn’t manage to do that as much as we intended because of frailties in certain areas of our game, but as the match went on we made more and more frequent line-breaks.
“The frustration was that we couldn’t finish them off and had to rely on a late penalty to win it, but at the end of the day we got the result.”
Explaining the philosophy behind this evening’s selection, Russell said: “The team we took to Romania was very youthful, whereas the one we have on show on Saturday has a little bit more experience in there.
“Some of those guys are back from injury and have not played for a while, so as well as being a good chance for them to get a run-out it is also an opportunity to add some of their know-how into the mix.”
Among that number is Scott Lawson, the Scotland hooker who makes his competitive debut for the club after injuring his hand in their final pre-season friendly against Edinburgh.
“Scotty brings experience, and a real edge,” said the former Hawke’s Bay boss. “The players respect him, and if you can call on an international player like that then it paves the way for the Premiership games which follow.
“Understandably there are a few guys who are disappointed to have missed out, but we are just trying to make sure we keep the confidence going.”
Alex Crockett is replaced in the centres by James Fitzpatrick, the rib injury suffered in Romania expected to keep him out for the next month, while Danny Barnes and Jamie Helleur are tipped to be fit for next weekend’s visit of London Irish.
Warren Fury captains the side from scrum-half, partnering Phil Godman, while Alex Tait and Noah Cato join the back three at the expense of Sean Brown and Catterick.
In addition to Lawson’s return the pack shows two further personnel changes from the side which started in Bucharest, Scott Wilson starting at tight-head for Oliver Tomaszczyk and Dom Barrow replacing Harrison Collins, who misses out with a thumb injury.
“Winning away in France would be pretty special, and I am sure Brive will want to put in a big performance in front of their own home crowd,” said Russell, Newcastle having won only one of their last six visits to the country.
“We will get a taste of the French flair because they are a team who can light up a game, as they showed in beating the champions Castres 34-0 a fortnight ago.
“We just need to make sure our heads are screwed on in terms of the tactical approach we want to take, and also in how we deal with what I would expect to be a very hostile home crowd. The fans are right on top of you over there, and we need to be doing the right things at the right times.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, A Powell, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland, P Godman, W Fury (captain); R Vickers, S Lawson, S Wilson, F McKenzie, S Tomes, D Barrow, M Wilson, C York. Replacements: G McGuigan, O Tomaszczyk, G Shiells, S MacLeod, A Hogg, C Pilgrim, J Hodgson, S Brown.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (Ire). Kick-off: 8pm (UK time).