Mark Wilson captains Newcastle Falcons for Friday’s European Rugby Challenge Cup trip to French club, Castres.
The England flanker returned from the bench during last weekend’s tournament opener at home to Cardiff Blues following an early-season injury, and slots into a starting XV showing seven changes from the 33-20 defeat.
Last weekend’s replacement front row of Kyle Cooper, Charlie Maddison and Rodney Ah You are all promoted to the starting team, while Northern Irish wing Zach Kerr makes his first team debut.
Brett Connon starts at fly-half for a match which will be shown in the UK on BT Sport 3 (kick-off 5.30pm UK time), Tongan international Cooper Vuna starting on the wing following last week’s successful comeback from injury.
On the bench there could be first team debuts for scrum-half Callum Pascoe, fly-half Will Haydon-Wood, back-five forward Freddie Lockwood and three-quarter Chidera Obonna, while experienced South African back-rower Philip van der Walt makes a welcome return from injury.
Director of rugby Dean Richards said ahead of the trip: “Cardiff Blues came up to our place last Friday with a really strong side, and despite the obvious disappointment of losing the game I thought our lads acquitted themselves well for the most part.
“We showed rustiness in certain areas which we’ll work on, and a number of boys will get another opportunity over in Castres.
“I’d expect an upturn in performance purely because a lot of the guys were getting the rust out of the system last week, having not played for so long.
“Having said that, Castres aren’t a bad side, and it’ll be tough over there.
“They have guys like Joe Worsley on their coaching team, who we all know is a quality operator, and they definitely won’t be a bad side.”
Having played and coached with French clubs earlier in his career, Richards added: “French teams are generally tough to beat on their own patch, although, having said that, our record in France isn’t too bad.
“We won in Toulon two years ago and in Bordeaux the year before, and we’re going over there with nothing to lose.
“It’ll certainly be different for the boys because we haven’t travelled as a team on an aeroplane since February when we went over to Jersey, and we’re going there and back on the day, which is also a bit different to how we usually do things.
“It’s exciting, though. I’m certainly looking forward to it, and I’m sure it’s the same for the players.”
Braced for a physical challenge, Richards said: “Most French sides are invariably huge – they have these Goliaths who trundle out of the tunnel, and it can be intimidating for some players when they see these monsters coming onto the field.
“They’ll be physical, which is a given, and without wanting to generalise too much you do tend to get a less structured game over there.
“Those things all present opportunities to us in different ways, and if we can combat their size and physicality then we’ll definitely have chances to score.
“It’d be lovely to come back into the Premiership with some real momentum from Europe, even though they’re two very different competitions.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Castres (Friday, 5.30pm UK time, Stade Pierre Fabre)
15 Tom Arscott
14 Zach Kerr
13 Pete Lucock
12 Joel Matavesi
11 Cooper Vuna
10 Brett Connon
9 Sam Stuart
1 Kyle Cooper
2 Charlie Maddison
3 Rodney Ah You
4 Rob Farrar
5 Darren Barry
6 Tom Marshall
7 Mark Wilson (captain)
8 Josh Basham
16 Jamie Blamire
17 Adam Brocklebank
18 Mike Daniels
19 Freddie Lockwood
20 Philip van der Walt
21 Callum Pascoe
22 Will Haydon-Wood
23 Chidera Obonna
Castres: 15 Clément Clavieres, 14 Bastien Guillemin, 13 Vilimoni Botitu, 12 Florian Vialelle (captain), 11 Antoine Bouzerand, 10 Louis Le Brun, 9 Jérémy Fernandez; 1 Wayan de Benedittis, 2 Kevin Firmin, 3 Matthew Tierney, 4 Simon Meka, 5 Dorian Clerc, 6 Stephane Onambele Mbarga, 7 Kevin Kornath, 8 Hugo Hermet.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Colonna, 17 Alexis Decaux, 18 Thomas Vidal, 19 Rian Olivier, 20 Baptiste Cope, 21 Bastien Bourgier, 22 Joris Dupont, 23 Adrien Amans.
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)