NEWCASTLE FALCONS’ first home European Champions Cup game for more than 13 years was always going to be quite an occasion. After last weekend, however, the anticipation levels ahead of Sunday’s Kingston Park clash with Montpellier have ratcheted up to an even higher level.

By becoming only the second team ever to win a Champions Cup game at Toulon’s Stade Mayol, Dean Richards’ side proved they were not simply returning to European rugby’s top table to make up the numbers.

They might be sitting at the foot of the Gallagher Premiership after a shaky start to the domestic season, but Falcons did not spend last term battling their way into the top four just to fold when they received the reward for their efforts.

Speaking at the launch of this season’s Champions Cup, which will conclude with a showpiece final at St James’ Park next May, Richards insisted he saw no reason why his side could not go deep into the competition. At the time, his comments were met with a fair amount of incredulity. After last weekend’s heroics in Toulon, it is safe to assume the laughing has ceased.

“We had a great year last year, we finished fourth in the Premiership and we’re in the Champions Cup on merit,” said fly-half Joel Hodgson, who kicked five from five last weekend, and created Falcons’ decisive penalty try with a second-half line break. “We’ve worked hard to be in this company, and the big thing for us now is to ensure we make the most of the opportunity.

“There’s no point humming and harring, you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and understand that you deserve to be here. I think the boys did that last weekend, and the thing now is to make sure it isn’t a one-off.

“Toulon had some big names on that field, as Montpellier will do on Sunday, but for us it was about the collective and all 23 lads sticking together along with all the reserves, staff and supporters who had gone out there to join us. We were all buying into the same thing, and that’s the key.”

Montpellier also made a successful start to their Champions Cup campaign, beating Edinburgh 21-15 on home soil, and Falcons’ weekend opponents sit eight places above Toulon in France’s Top 14.

They are seasoned European campaigners, but Hodgson feels their structured approach could count against them on Sunday. The Falcons players have been doing their homework this week, and have identified some tactical flaws that could work in their favour.

“Toulon were a big side and if anything Montpellier are probably a bit bigger, so we know it’s going to be a huge physical challenge,” said Hodgson. “Montpellier have a bit more structure about them compared to Toulon and we’ve identified their strengths, but we’ve also highlighted a couple of areas where we feel there are opportunities for us if we nail our own game plan.

“Toulon were a much more unpredictable team who vary what they do to quite a large extent during the game, whereas Montpellier are probably drilled a bit more. That works in their favour in many ways, but in terms of our own preparation it probably means we have a better idea of what’s coming.

“Stopping it is another thing, of course, because they’re a class side, and it’s about how we can implement our own game onto them.”

If the hosts display the same intensity and desire that powered them to victory last weekend, there is no reason why they cannot claim another French scalp. And that really would send out a statement to the rest of Europe.

“Last weekend was one of the highlights of my career, and I’m sure most of the boys would say the same,” said Hodgson. “We knew what to expect because we’d played videos of it in our team meetings during the week, and we rose to the challenge.

“The fans who travelled to Toulon were phenomenal. Hopefully, we can get a similar volume going on Sunday. We’re lucky to have that following, and want to give them something to be proud of on a more regular basis.”