Winless Newcastle hoping ill wind will foil struggling French giants
Winless Newcastle Falcons cannot compete with Montpellier’s playing budget or high-profile squad and will need to call upon the North East’s bitter winter weather to level the playing field when the teams clash in the European Challenge Cup at Kingston Park this weekend.
That’s the verdict of Falcons forwards coach Micky Ward who wears shorts even in the coldest months and fully understands the impact the cold wind blowing in from the North Sea can have on opponents. Add to the equation the fact that Montpellier have brought in a new coaching team this season under Bernard Laporte -sacking England’s Richard Cockerill in the process – and are on their own eight-game losing run and there are reasons to believe the Falcons can register their first victory of the season after eight defeats in the Premiership. Newcastle have enjoyed success in a previous meeting with Montpellier at Kingston Park, winning a Champions Cup clash 23-20 in 2018.
Montpellier, who started the season registering an opening win over back-to-back European champions La Rochelle, have a squad that includes former Exeter Chiefs Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams along with Paolo Garbisi, of Italy, South African World Cup winner Cobus Reinach, Wales prop Henry Thomas and a number of French internationals headed by lock Paul Willemse.
Patently, both teams are in need of a confidence boost and Ward said: “It is beautiful across in France but we have temperatures of 2C, sleet coming down and it’s freezing cold. You have to use everything you can when you are playing teams like this. Hopefully, it will be cold and nice and wet on match day.
“When you get into a habit of losing then it becomes acceptable and we have said for a couple of weeks that once we get that first win the second and third will come off that. Hopefully, this match will be the springboard and get that momentum. That’s what we are hoping for. We beat them in the Champions Cup and so we know we have turned them over at home before.
“Montpellier have an outstanding squad but haven’t had it all their own way this season with a poor start. Cockers (Cockerill) is a good bloke but he has been given the bullet and they have brought other people in. We don’t know if they are going to come with all their big guns and try and get their own momentum but we have a rough idea of the mentality they will come with in this transition period.
“It is a tough start to the season with 21 weeks on the bounce without a break and it is nice to freshen things up with Montpellier at home and then we travel to South Africa to face the Lions and that means we can try a few different things including going to the Stadium of Light in Sunderland for a training session this week. We do things as a group, getting off-site to do different things so it’s not the same every week. We had to get vaccinations and got through passport control to get to Sunderland and it was a bit interesting for Phil Brantingham, our prop, who is a hardcore Newcastle United season ticket holder and struggled a bit .”