FRENCH prop Sami Mavinga will feel at home on Sunday as Newcastle Falcons take on Toulon in the opening round of the European Champions Cup.

Mavinga joins a freshened-up front row as Falcons play their first Champions Cup game for 14 seasons, joining Kyle Cooper and David Wilson in the starting spots as part of a side containing ten changes from last weekend’s defeat at Sale Sharks.

A number of those are enforced, with captain Will Welch having suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for the next couple of months, fly-half Toby Flood missing out due to a shoulder injury and Vereniki Goneva being sidelined following a head knock.

Alex Tait comes in at full-back with Tom Arscott replacing Goneva on the wing, Tom Penny slots in at outside centre after impressing from the bench in recent weeks, and Joel Hodgson takes the number ten shirt. Will Witty and Glen Young start in the second row, with the final change coming in the back row where Fiji number eight Nemani Nagusa is handed a first-team debut.

Portugese centre Pedro Bettencourt is poised to make his first-team debut as a replacement after joining from French club Carcassonne.

Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “Playing rugby in the south of France on these big European weekends is something a bit special, and the players will respond to that. The atmosphere in Toulon is as good as any, and we just want to get out there and enjoy it.

“Whether they’ll be on a similar sort of footing this time round as when they were flying high a couple of seasons ago remains to be seen, because they’re third from bottom in the Top 14 and struggling a little bit.

“We’ll see what happens in that regard, but on paper they’re a fantastic team. They spend probably 20 million more than us so you’d expect them to be, but for whatever reason they’re not performing at the moment.

Explaining his selection, Richards said: “Toby Flood will be out for a little while, Will Welch will be long term unfortunately but it’s just one of those things.

"That’s the nature of the sport, you get injuries during the season and it’s an opportunity for the guys who are coming in. It’s not a case of focusing on the domestic competition over the European, because we believe we have a strong enough squad to do both.”

Newcastle Falcons: Tait, Arscott, Penny, Williams, Sinoti, Hodgson, M Young; Mavinga, Cooper, D Wilson, Witty, G Young, M Wilson, Graham, Nagusa.

Replacements: McGuigan, Brocklebank, Mulipola, Burrows, Chick, Takulua, Connon, Bettencourt.