Preview – Newcastle v Clermont

Newcastle Falcons have made two changes to their side as they prepare for Friday’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final trip to French side ASM Clermont-Auvergne.

The only change to the pack comes at blindside flank where Andy Buist takes the place of Geoff Parling, who is among the replacements for the clash at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin.

The other switch comes in the backs, where John Rudd comes in for Tom May on the wing following Saturday’s narrow defeat at Premiership leaders Gloucester.

Falcons boss John Fletcher emphasised the importance of Friday’s match, stating: “It’s our last chance of silverware this season, and for that reason this is now a massive game for the club.

“Clermont are a good side with nice balance all the way through, but we believe we can cause them problems and hopefully come away with the result we need.”

Having made only two changes to his side from last weekend’s narrow defeat at Gloucester, Fletcher explained his selection, saying: “We’ve kept the same 22 as last Saturday, but we have mixed around the players at blindside flanker and wing.

“John Rudd comes in to the side because I want to have a look at him with this back line, and the decision to put Tom May on the bench is in no way a reflection on him because I think he has contributed well this season.

“Ruddy gives us something different with his direct approach, and he has proved to be a good signing this season. I’m interested to see how he goes against Clermont, and just excited about the game.

“Geoff Parling has done well this season at six, but he didn’t train at all last week before the Gloucester game and has only had a limited part in training this week.

“I don’t have any hesitation throwing Andy Buist in to the starting XV for this weekend, he’s a quality player and he offers a lot to the team. He hasn’t had a lot of starting opportunities this season due to the form of the guys in the back five, but he will add to what we feel is a very competitive team.”

With the hosts having left out Test stars Pierre Mignoni and Elvis Vermeulen, Fletcher said he still believes his side will be met with the full French onslaught come Friday evening.

“Any sporting team takes every game seriously – that’s why we’re in this business – and I’m sure Friday will be no different for Clermont,” he said.

“There is no Mignoni and no Vermeulen in the side, but when you look at their team they’ve brought in replacements like Alessandro Troncon who, for me, was one of the best players in this year’s Six Nations.

“They have a lot of top international class throughout the team, and I expect them to treat it the same as they would do for any other big occasion. The vast majority of their stronger players are still involved, and especially at home they will be no pushovers.”

Form: ASM Clermont Auvergne and Newcastle Falcons meet for the third time in European competition in Friday night’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final. They were pooled together in the 2004 season and honours are even as both sides won their home matches. But if the form book is to be believed it is the French side who will go into this weekend’s match with confidence. They are riding high in the French championship while Newcastle are struggling in the Guinness Premiership. And ASM completed the Pool stage with a perfect six-from-six record – registering doubles over Albi, Worcester Warriors and Viadana. The Falcons’ passage to the final eight wasn’t quite as smooth. They suffered defeats to Montauban and Brive and are hoping ASM aren’t the third French team to defeat them in what has been a mediocre season by their standards.

ASM Clermont Auvergne: tbc

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Matt Burke (capt), 14 John Rudd, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Jamie Noon, 11 Toby Flood, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 James Grindal, 8 Brent Wilson, 7 Ben Woods, 6 Andy Buist, 5

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