PORTUGUESE centre Pedro Bettencourt is hoping the depth of the Newcastle Falcons squad will come to the fore when Exeter Chiefs visit Kingston Park for the opening round of games in the Premiership Rugby Cup on Sunday.

With his side having come through two gruelling Heineken Champions Cup clashes in the last two weeks, Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards will use the domestic cup competition to rest some of his leading lights and provide his fringe players with an opportunity to progress.

The likes of Adam Radwan, Zach Kibirige and England Under-18 international Tom Marshall have been elevated to the starting XV, along with Bettencourt, who made his competitive Falcons debut a fortnight ago when he left the bench in Toulon.

“The Premiership Rugby Cup is a great competition because it allows some of the younger players or the squad guys to come in and show their skills at a higher level, and prove they’re capable of stepping up,” said Bettencourt, who has been capped by Portugal at sevens and 15s, and joined Falcons from Carcassonne this summer.

“The coaches need to know they can count on these players when the need arises during the season, and from the players’ side it’s a chance to get quality game time at a decent level. You just need to be ready for that opportunity.

“In terms of Sunday’s opposition, you can get a lot of inspiration by looking what Exeter have done over the past few years. They’ve won trophies, they play a good brand of rugby and we know it will be a test.

“It’ll be physical upfront, which is a given, and we’ll look to create attacking opportunities. We’re blessed with such amazing talent on the wings at this club, the role of the inside backs is basically to give them the ball in space and let them do their magic.”

Bettencourt’s father played rugby in the 1970s, and while Portugal might not be a common breeding ground for the sport, he was inspired to take the sport seriously after watching his nation compete in the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.

He was in the academy at Clermont before moving to Carcassonne, and jumped at the opportunity to test himself on Tyneside this summer.

“It felt out of this world when the move to Newcastle came about, given how well they’d gone last season,” he said. “I’d been playing in the French Second Division so it was a big jump up in standard, but it has been great to be involved with the Falcons and to be having this experience.

“Pre-season was hard for a couple of reasons, firstly the fact I joined the club pretty late and then secondly because I picked up an injury near the end of pre-season.

“Obviously that’s not ideal and I’ve been trying to catch up a little, but I’m loving the experience of being here and getting used to English rugby, which is faster than the French game.

“In France, I think a lot of the guys are bigger and the rugby can be more physical, but it’s a slower pace there. The guys here are fitter, and the rugby they try to play is pretty smart.”

Bettencourt is part of a Falcons side that will be skippered by Ryan Burrows on Sunday, with academy manager Mark Laycock taking over coaching duties.

Burrows forms part of a back row that includes Marshall, who will make his senior debut after impressing as part of the Newcastle A team that currently sits top of the Premiership Rugby Shield’s Northern Conference.

Last weekend’s match-winner Callum Chick completes the back-row, with Andrew Davidson coming in at lock after featuring for Glasgow in the Pro 14 during a recent loan spell in his native Scotland.

Jon Welsh comes in at tight-head prop, joined in the front row by Trevor Davison and Santiago Socino, while Radwan and Kibirige form a pacy wing pairing, Tom Arscott starts at full-back and there also starting spots for Brett Connon and Ben Stevenson.

“This is a big occasion for these boys, probably the biggest that a lot of them have played in,” said Laycock. “We want to win things.”