TOBY FLOOD has warned there can be no easing off as Newcastle Falcons kick-off their European campaign with a Challenge Cup home game against Welsh side, Dragons, tomorrow.

Falcons have made a fine start to the Aviva Premiership season, winning four of their six matches and claiming a losing bonus-point against reigning champions Exeter Chiefs last weekend, but attention now switches to continental matters.

While England’s biggest clubs compete in the Champions Cup, Falcons find themselves in European rugby’s secondary competition, and director of rugby Dean Richards has historically used to the tournament as an opportunity to rest some of his key players and blood some new talent.

Loading article content

That looks to be the case again, with Richards having made 11 changes to his starting XV, but Flood insists it is important to maintain the momentum that has been built in the early weeks of the campaign.

“We can’t fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Let’s just get through these two European games and see where we are come the Leicester match’, because that’s when complacency creeps in,” said Flood, who will be making the first start of his second spell at Kingston Park when he lines up in the centres this afternoon. “We just need to go all-out in the Challenge Cup games, get it right on the field and take that momentum back into the Premiership.

“If you look back we’re in a pretty good position in the Premiership with four wins from six and being in the top four in the division, but it’s still early days. If we don’t perform during the next part of the season we’ll be chasing ourselves a little, and it comes down to making sure we keep it going.

“This time of the season things can be a little bit stop-start with chopping between three different competitions, and we need to remain switched-on the whole time. What we can’t do is take our foot off the gas in Europe - we need to keep the momentum going and make sure we go into that Leicester game with two decent wins behind us.

“Part of having a big and strong squad is the ability to use it at times like these, and there are a lot of guys here who have not necessarily been in the Premiership starting XV but who can still do a great job. It’s an exciting time because players can really make a name for themselves during this window, and there are a lot of boys pushing for selection.”

Falcons are in a pool with Dragons, French side Bordeaux-Begles and Russian club Enisei-STM for six home-and-away matches, with the five group winners and three best runners-up progressing to the quarter-finals of a competition Newcastle have never won.

“The way the European Challenge Cup is structured means that if you don’t get the first two weeks right you can struggle, and find yourself in a bit of a hole,” said Flood. “That in itself means you’re almost into knock-out rugby straightaway, and that increases the intensity of the players, the crowd and as a result the pressure on the match officials.

“All of that wrapped into one means we have to make sure we’re on it from the start, and that buzz in the crowd can really lift us. We’ve got to make sure we manage that first 20 minutes, and if we can do that we’ve potentially got a chance in this competition in terms of heading off to Bordeaux next weekend in a good position.”

Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley, Tait, Mermoz, Flood, Radwan, Hodgson, Stuart; Vickers, Sowrey, Davison, Witty, Robinson, M Wilson, Graham, Burrows.

Replacements: Blamire, Brocklebank, S Wilson, Young, Welch, Dawson, Cowell, Harris.