Portugese centre Pedro Bettencourt is backing Newcastle Falcons’ squad depth to rise to the challenge when they host Exeter Chiefs in Sunday’s Premiership Rugby Cup opener at Kingston Park Stadium (kick-off 3pm).
The 23-year-old made his competitive debut for the Falcons a fortnight ago when he came on from the bench during his side’s heroic Heineken Champions Cup victory in Toulon, and is ready to seize his chance if called upon this weekend.
“It has been quite a journey,” said the dual-format international who has been capped by Portugal at both 7s and 15s, joining the Falcons from Carcassonne this summer after spending two seasons in the Clermont academy.
“My dream was always to be a professional sportsman. My dad played rugby in the 1970s, my uncles and my cousins played, and it started to be on the TV more often with Portugal qualifying for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. I, like many other Portugese kids, got inspired by that, and you want to be like your heroes.”
Settling into life on Tyneside, the fluent English speaker said: “It felt out of this world when the move to Newcastle came about, given how well they’d gone last season. I’d been playing in the French Second Division so it was a big jump up in standard, but it has been great to be involved with the Falcons and to be having this experience.
“Pre-season was hard for a couple of reasons, firstly the fact I joined the club pretty late and then secondly because I picked up an injury near the end of pre-season.
“Obviously that’s not ideal and I’ve been trying to catch up a little, but I’m loving the experience of being here and getting used to English rugby, which is faster than the French game. In France I think a lot of the guys are bigger and the rugby can be more physical, but it’s a slower pace there. The guys here are fitter, and the rugby they try to play is pretty smart.”
Despite the Falcons’ league form not yet hitting the same heights as their Champions Cup exploits Bettencourt is confident of a Premiership rise, saying: “It was tough to see some of the results we were getting during those early rounds of the Premiership, but we were close in a lot of the games and we always had faith that our game plan was the right one.
“We were still putting up decent performances and creating opportunities even though the wins weren’t always coming, so in that sense it was no great surprise to us when results began to turn the right way. We didn’t panic, because we believe in the game plan.
“On the same token we’re not getting over-excited just because we’ve had a couple of victories in Europe. The margins are so fine at this level that one little slip in concentration can cost you a result, and it’s just about maintaining our focus and trusting what we’re doing.”
The midfield man is ready to play his part in what is expected to be a freshened-up line-up for Sunday’s visit of Exeter, with Newcastle’s table-topping A-Team providing a number of ready-made options for the coaching team of Mark Laycock and James Ponton.
“The Premiership Rugby Cup is a great competition because it allows some of the younger players or the squad guys to come in and show their skills at a higher level, and to prove they’re capable of stepping up,” said Bettencourt.
“The coaches need to know they can count on these players when the need arises during the season, and from the players’ side it’s a chance to get quality game time at a decent level. You just need to be ready for that opportunity.
“In terms of Sunday’s opposition, you can get a lot of inspiration by looking what Exeter have done over the past few years.
“They’ve won trophies, they play a good brand of rugby and we know it will be a test. It’ll be physical upfront, which is a given, and we’ll look to create attacking opportunities. We’re blessed with such amazing talent on the wings at this club, the role of the inside backs is basically to give them the ball in space and let them do their magic.”
Tickets for Sunday’s 3pm kick-off are available by clicking here, calling 0871 226 6060 or from the stadium in person.