Peter Russell insists Newcastle Falcons are not writing off the Amlin Challenge Cup, despite the club being set to ring the changes during the European fortnight.
The head coach is expected to be working with a host of new faces for Saturday’s trip to Romania, where they tackle Bucharest Wolves, and the same again in central France a week later when they meet Brive.
Russell said: “We want to challenge in the competition, but also to ensure we utilise some of our youngerplayers.”
Michael Tait’s return from a loan spell in Edinburgh could put the Scotland Under-20s cap into that bracket, although Russell also revealed that the Falcons would be looking to bolster their English-qualified player quota, the scheme which rewards clubs for fielding greater numbers of homegrown players.
“The English side of it is important, and some of the young English boys will be thrown in there,” said Russell, whose side were 22-16 winners at Worcester Warriors in Saturday’s Premiership programme.
“It is just building momentum for some of the guys, and those who have worked the hardest over the past two months will be given the opportunity to freshen things up.”
Newcastle’s solid start in the A-League, English rugby’s development competition, has seen a number of youngsters to the fore, winger Sean Brown and hooker George McGuigan among the academy graduates to shine.
Whether or not that translates into senior selection for the next two weeks remains to be seen, during a fortnight in which Russell and his fellow coaches will learn more about their next wave.
“Going to places like Bucharest and Brive will be exciting for the boys, and it is going into the unknown, really,” said the former Hawke’s Bay boss. “We can’t find out a great deal about the Bucharest team in terms of footage with them being made up of players from all different clubs, which makes the preparation a little different, but it is a great opportunity for some of our guys.
“Everyone has to keep playing rugby to better themselves, and keep challenging themselves.
“Visiting places like Bucharest is one of those opportunities you get through rugby, and you learn from each new experience.
“Like everybody else I will have my eyes wide open, and just be looking to learn whatever I can.”
Falcons captain Will Welch echoed those sentiments, although the open-side was pulled from Saturday’s victory at Worcester after just half-an-hour with a knock to the shoulder.
Director of rugby Dean Richards stated in the immediate aftermath that the injury did not seem serious, but with league matters in mind the prospects of the skipper lining up in Romania look to be slim.
Still enthused by the theoretical prospect, Welch said: “The two-week break for Europe will be useful to work on a few things we want to improve on, and to get a bit of confidence from that going into the next block of league games.”
Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons wing Andy Higgins has announced his retirement from professional rugby with immediate effect, having struggled with a knee injury.
The former Worcester, Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Sale Sharks three-quarter joined the Falcons at the start of last season’s RFU Championship-winning campaign, making 14 appearances in total.
A former England Saxons cap in his prime, the 32-year-old said: “It was a tough decision to have to make, and I have really enjoyed my time at Newcastle Falcons.”
Higgins becomes the third Falcons back to retire this season, joining Tane Tu’ipulotu and Rory Lawson.