Newcastle Falcons will look to equal their best ever performance in European Rugby competition with their EPCR Challenge Cup last eight match against fellow Aviva Premiership Rugby rivals Exeter Chiefs on Saturday 4th April.
The Kingston Park outfit last reached the final four in 2008, the fourth time they’d reached that stage in 10 years. Since then they have been ousted in the quarter-finals three times, and they’ll be keen not to make that four as they make the long trip down to the south west.
Falcons qualified for the quarter-finals by finishing second in Pool 3. That Pool included Newport Gwent Dragons, Stade Francais and Bucharest Wolves, so even making it to this stage was a commendable achievement. In the end, Newcastle ended up with a record of four wins and two defeats from their six games, including a fine victory over the Dragons at Rodney Parade.
There was also a thrilling win over Stade Francais at Kingston Park in a match that will live long in the fans’ memory, as the lead changed hands four times in the second half in a back and forth contest.
What of their opponents? The Chiefs topped Pool 2 with five wins out of six. On their way to first place they overcame Connacht, Bayonne and La Rochelle, losing only away in Bayonne on the opening day to blemish an otherwise perfect record. Exeter scored an impressive average of 33 points per game in the Pool, and if they can get up near that mark Newcastle will have to be at the very top of their game to topple them.
Which players will be crucial in this encounter? Falcons will be looking to Centre Juan Pablo Socino to make a big difference for them. The Argentine has crossed the line four times already in just three appearances, helping his side to the last eight. Meanwhile, Full Back Simon Hammersly has been rampant, gaining 509 metres and two tries.
Chiefs Captain Dean Mumm has been in try scoring form in the tournament, so Falcons will be keen to stop his progress. Dave Ewers has been strong in defence, making 50 tackles so far to this point.
How does each team’s run to the Final look if they continue to win? The winner of this game will take on the victor of the clash between Gloucester and Connacht in the semi-final. If they can get through that clash, then either London Irish, Edinburgh, Dragons or Cardiff Blues await in the final at the Twickenham Stoop in May.
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