NEWCASTLE FALCONS are without last weekend’s hat-trick hero Zach Kibirige as they look to claim their opening win of this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup at Harlequins on Sunday.

Falcons have made five changes from the side that drew their opening game of the domestic cup competition against Exeter Chiefs last weekend, with Kibirige unable to build on his three-try haul as he is sidelined with a thigh injury.

Tom Arscott moves to the right wing to replace the former Yarm School student, with Alex Tait returning to the side at full-back.

Scotland international Chris Harris replaces Ben Stevenson at centre, with the other three changes coming in the pack. Sam Lockwood and Jack Payne start at prop, while Connor Collett makes his first competitive Falcons start since joining from New Zealand’s North Harbour.

On the bench, there could be Falcons debuts for new signing John Hardie and academy graduate Rob Farrar, while Tim Swiel returns to his former club following his recent move north.

Academy manager and first-team skills coach Mark Laycock and academy head coach James Ponton will once again take charge of the side.

“Harlequins is a new challenge and requires a different approach to Exeter last week, in some respects,” said Ponton. “We’ve had the players for a full week in training, which is good, because going into the Exeter match the lads had been given a few well-deserved rest days after a tough eight-week block.

“That rest is very important because it freshens them up mentally and physically, but we’ve been able to get through some more work this week and look at our game plan in more depth.”

Taking on a Harlequins side led by his fellow former RGS Newcastle alumnus, Paul Gustard, Ponton added: “It’s a different challenge this week purely because Harlequins are a much harder team to read.

"Quins do a bit of everything over the course of the 80 minutes, there’s not as a much of a set pattern to their play and can you add in to that the fact they have changed their head coach for this season with Paul Gustard coming in.

“Paul’s background in defence means there has been perhaps more of an emphasis on that rather than their attack, and we’re looking forward to the challenge of putting in place an attack which will really test that improved defence of theirs.”

With the Falcons squad once again boasting a hefty contingent of home-grown players, Ponton said: “There are a lot of our academy guys coming into the side, and it’s pleasing for myself and Mark Laycock because we’ve seen their progression through the system to the point where they’re now genuinely challenging for first team spots on merit.

“The credit is theirs because they’ve worked hard, stuck at it and taken their chances when they’ve come.”

Newcastle Falcons: Tait, Arscott, Harris, Bettencourt, Radwan, Connon, Stuart; Lockwood, Socino, Payne, Davidson, Young, Burrows, Collett, Chick.