Newcastle Falcons have named an all-English-qualified starting XV for Friday’s European Rugby Challenge Cup visit of Cardiff Blues to Kingston Park Stadium.
Homegrown fly-half Joel Hodgson captains the Falcons in the 8pm kick-off, which is being televised live in the UK on both S4C and BT Sport 3.
Former England Students lock Bailey Ransom makes his first team debut, centre Pete Lucock starting for the first time since joining from Doncaster Knights in the summer – flankers Josh Basham and Rob Farrar also making their maiden starts.
Adam Brocklebank, Jamie Blamire and Mark Tampin all earn front-row starting spots after impressing from the bench during the Falcons’ unbeaten start to the Gallagher Premiership season, with Alex Tait, Tom Arscott and George Wacokecoke coming into the back three.
Newcastle’s bench sees a first outing of the season for club captain Mark Wilson following his recovery from injury, while Kyle Cooper could be set for his first competitive outing at prop after making the switch from hooker.
Fit-again Tongan international Cooper Vuna makes a welcome return after scoring on his debut just over a year ago - sustaining a serious shoulder injury later in the same game against Hartpury.
Defence coach Nick Easter said ahead of the Challenge Cup opener: “Moving into another competition keeps things fresh, and I expect Cardiff Blues to come up strong.
“The players all know what’s expected of them from a work-rate, skill and game-understanding perspective, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we go.”
Sitting second in the Gallagher Premiershp table having won all three of their games, Easter said: “In professional sport winning is ultimately what matters, but you have to put processes in place to reach that point.
“As a newly-promoted team that doesn’t always happen straightaway, and a lot of the focus has really been on creating an identity again for Newcastle Falcons as a Premiership team after 18 months away from the competition. You need to have that DNA in terms of what you stand for, and we understand it’s not always going to go swimmingly for us.
“With three wins from three it couldn’t have gone much better, but with that comes a heightened level of analysis and a more forensic eye when teams are preparing to play against us. The great thing is we have a bunch of guys with a load of grit and no little talent, which isn’t a bad place to be.”
Explaining the physicality demonstrated by his troops in all three of their league assignments, the former England No 8 added: “Rugby is a collision sport, and intensity is one of those basic pre-requisites that every side needs to bring.
“The Premiership is a highly attritional league, and it’s about having that consistency of effort rather than dipping in and out during games when it comes to showing that physicality.
“What we ask of the players is pretty simple, because if it’s simple they’re more likely to be able to understand it and do it repeatedly – especially when they’re under fatigue or under pressure during games.”
Enjoying his time on Tyneside after three successful years in Durban with Natal Sharks’ Currie Cup team and the Sharks in Super Rugby, Easter said: “Working in South Africa was great in terms of understanding the different mind-set and emphasis that is out on the game in another country, but I’ve learnt from everywhere I’ve been during my playing and coaching career.
“I always had a good opinion of Newcastle having been here many times as a visiting player and on the occasional night out, but having more time here now really does make you appreciate what the club and the whole region has to offer.”
Bringing in a host of new faces this week after going with the same starting XV for the previous three games, he explained: “We’ve had a lot of injuries during pre-season but then had an unchanged team during the first three weeks of the Premiership, which is really unusual at this level.
“It’s a credit to the physios and the strength and conditioning team, as well as the resilience of the players, that they have been able to do that, but we all know the guys can’t keep rolling out indefinitely week after week.
“The brilliant thing is we have a really talented and eager group of players waiting in the wings to come in on Friday, and it’s a big opportunity for them.”
For details on how to watch, listen to or follow Friday’s game online, please click here.
Newcastle Falcons team to face Cardiff Blues (Friday, 8pm, Kingston Park Stadium, live on S4C and BT Sport 3)
15 Alex Tait
14 George Wacokecoke
13 Pete Lucock
12 Joel Matavesi
11 Tom Arscott
10 Joel Hodgson (captain)
9 Sam Stuart
1 Adam Brocklebank
2 Jamie Blamire
3 Mark Tampin
4 Darren Barry
5 Bailey Ransom
6 Rob Farrar
7 Josh Basham
8 Tom Marshall
16 Charlie Maddison
17 Kyle Cooper
18 Rodney Ah You
19 Connor Collett
20 Mark Wilson
21 Louis Schreuder
22 Cooper Vuna
23 Brett Connon
Cardiff Blues: H Amos; O Lane, G Smith, B Thomas, A Summerhill; J Evans, T Williams; B Thyer, K Dacey, D Lewis, S Davies, C Hill (capt), S Lewis-Hughes, J Turnbull, S Moore.
Replacements: I Harris, R Carré, S Andrews, B Murphy, G Bradley, L Williams, H Millard, M Morgan
Referee: Ludovic Cayre (France)