THEY still have a mathematical chance of making the quarter-finals, but Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards will not be expecting miracles when the Amlin Challenge Cup group phase comes to a climax tomorrow.
Last week’s 9-7 home defeat to Brive means Falcons must beat Bucharest Wolves at Kingston Park and hope that Italian part-timers Calvisano spring a huge surprise when they travel to France to take on group leaders Brive.
Given that Calvisano are rooted to the foot of the Pool Three table, eight points adrift of fellow strugglers Bucharest, it will take one of the biggest shocks of the season to keep Newcastle’s European hopes alive.
Anything is possible, but Richards will not be spending too much time keeping up to date with events in central France.
“Mathematically, it is not a dead rubber for us, but like most people, I would expect Brive to beat Calvisano and win the group,” said Richards. “They should beat them and get the four-try bonus point as well I suspect.
“Of course, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Calvisano go there and spring a surprise, in which case we will hope to have taken care of our own end of the deal by beating Bucharest.”
Falcons scraped a 13-12 success when they travelled to Romania last October, with the size of the Bucharest pack causing some problems in an unexpectedly tight encounter.
Things should be rather more comfortable tomorrow, although Richards has selected a youthful line-up in order to give some of his more senior players a rest ahead of next weekend’s LV=Cup game with Saracens.
Teenage winger Zach Kibirige is away on England Under-20s duty, so Tom Catterick moves to the wing with Noah Cato getting the nod at full-back.
Alex Crockett comes in at outside centre, with Chris Pilgrim and Rory Clegg forming an experimental half-back pairing at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.
There are rare starts for hooker George McGuigan and tight head prop Oliver Tomaszczyk, with Fraser McKenzie and Andy Saull also coming into the pack.
“We have used the competition to blood some youngsters, although you can’t do that too much because of the restrictions around registrations for Europe,” said Richards.
“They gave us a tough game over there, and they are not a bad side. They have nothing to lose, but regardless of the quarter-final position, we just want to go out on a winning note with a victory in front of our home supporters.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: Cato, Catterick, Crockett, Fitzpatrick, Shortland, Clegg, Pilgrim; Vickers, McGuigan, Tomaszczyk, McKenzie, MacLeod, Welch, Saull, York.
Replacements: Lawson, Hallam, S Wilson, Tomes, M Wilson, Fury, Godman, Powell.