STEVE BATES has challenged Newcastle Falcons’ young guns to fire themselves into the first-team picture when they get a rare chance to impress in tomorrow’s LV=Cup tie at Cardiff Blues.

The game might be a dress rehearsal for April’s Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final between the sides, but with Newcastle all but out of the Anglo-Welsh competition following two defeats in the autumn, Bates has opted to field a largely shadow side at the Cardiff City Stadium.

The likes of Michael Tait, Tom Catterick, Will Welch and Chris Pilgrim will all make rare starts tomorrow, but rather than viewing the game as an irrelevance, Bates is treating it is an opportunity for some of his fringe players to stake a claim for increased involvement in the second half of the season.

“We will have a number of personnel changes in the starting XV,” confirmed the Falcons director of rugby.

“But that doesn’t in any way diminish the way the team will prepare for the match.

“There are guys starting this weekend who have a lot to play for. We are taking it very seriously and this is a great opportunity for them to show us what they can do at this level.

“The players are really looking forward to this challenge.

Many of them have had limited scope for first-team rugby this season, and the onus is on them to come and take these chances. Hopefully, they will make selection very difficult for us in the coming weeks, and that’s what it is all about.”

Forward Peter Browne is one of the players making a rare start tomorrow, and the 22-year-old is aware of the personal importance of a fixture that lost much of its relevance when Newcastle lost to Worcester and Harlequins last November. Browne has made just four starts and six replacement appearances this season, and with Falcons’ first-choice back row looking all but impregnable, tomorrow offers the former England Students international an opportunity to show what he can do in the second row.

“I haven’t had a start for a while,” said Browne. “So there is personal pressure on me to deliver this weekend and show the coaches that I’m ready to be considered for the Premiership games. It’s a good pressure to have, it’s exciting for me, and there are a lot of other players in a similar position.

“At the beginning of the season, I was starting games and felt I was playing reasonably well.

“But after breaking my thumb, the form of the guys has been such that I’ve been fighting it out for a place on the bench for the most part.

It’s naturally frustrating when you’re left out of the side, but as a player you have to sometimes appreciate the bigger picture and see what shape the coaches are trying to give the side.”

FALCONS (vs Cardiff Blues): Catterick, Williams, M Tait, Bobo, Biggs, Miller, Pilgrim; Shiells, Walker, Thompson, Browne, Sorenson, Williamson, Welch, Balding (capt). Replacements: Vickers, Ward, Brookes, Afu, Gray, Charlton, Vickerman, Amesbury.