MAXIME MERMOZ will be Newcastle Falcons’ ‘French connection’ when they take on Bordeaux-Begles in the European Challenge Cup tomorrow night.

Falcons head to Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas looking to build on last weekend’s 32-27 home win over Welsh side Dragons, and Mermoz has been telling his team-mates what to expect from tomorrow’s cross-Channel skirmish.

The centre boasts three French league winners’ medals from his time at Toulon, Perpignan and Toulouse, and has encountered Bordeaux on countless occasions.

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The French club currently top the Falcons’ group after a 57-17 win over Russian side Enisei-STM in their opening group game, and Mermoz is expecting a high-tempo test.

“Bordeaux are quite similar to Newcastle in a way,” said the two-time European Champions Cup winner. “They don’t have too many big boys but they have a lot of speed. They play as a team and have a lot of confidence, they score plenty of points and even in Siberia last week they put up a big total. For me they’re one of the best teams in the Top 14.

“The stadium is amazing. It’s very big with being a former soccer stadium but the stands are quite a way back from the pitch, and that’s the only thing I don’t like. We have to expect to sweat a lot because it’s hot there, but I expect a good game because both teams want to play attacking rugby and the Challenge Cup is a competition in which ambition is rewarded.”

Mermoz joined Falcons in the summer after spending the second half of last season with Leicester Tigers, and while tomorrow’s game affords an opportunity to return to his homeland, it will not have a special emotional attachment for the 31-year-old.

“Going back to France isn’t a particularly big moment for me, because that’s not why I came to Newcastle,” he said. “It’s good to be involved in the game and to be playing for the Falcons, but I came to England to play against English teams. Those experiences are the ones I will really regard as special, because with the best will in the world I have already played many times in Bordeaux and I know what it’s about.

“It was very exciting to play last week against the Dragons and it’s always good to wear the jersey. We started well and I thought we were going to win by more, but we made some mistakes and it became more of a contest than it probably should have been.”

Having shown up well in pre-season, a personal issue meant Mermoz was forced to wait for his competitive Falcons debut. He is fully available now though, and is hoping to make his mark before the Aviva Premiership programme resumes.

“I want to train hard and be part of the team, and I know with the quality we have here that I have to work to earn that place,” he said. “In terms of not being available at the start of the Premiership it was frustrating, but it was for personal family reasons rather than an injury, and it’s just one of those things.

“I had a really good pre-season with a very intense July and August, and I enjoyed discovering a new team, a new club and a new city. I was ready to play in the Premiership after our pre-season friendlies but I had to go back to France for a little while, and I missed a month or so as a result. I’m back now and determined to do well for Newcastle, so now it’s a case of just working hard for the rest of the season and doing my best for this club.”