The EPCR Challenge Cup could offer vital experience for Newcastle Falcons young players as the club navigates a transitional period, says former England fly-half Andy Goode. 

Goode spent the last of his 18-year professional career at Newcastle who will be playing in the EPCR Challenge Cup for the third consecutive season. 

In the first four rounds, Falcons will play Connacht Rugby and Cardiff Rugby home and away, starting the season without director of rugby Dean Richards who announced he was stepping down in April. 

The ex-England and Lions number eight was first appointed back in 2012, and Goode thinks it will be a big loss for the Northeast side. 

Goode said: “There is a lot of rebuilding going on at Newcastle Falcons at the minute with Dean leaving who’s been there for a good ten years.  

“He is a fantastic character around the place and understands European rugby like no one else. They will go through a rebuilding phase.  

“They’ve got a young squad and it’ll give some of the younger players pleasant experience and hopefully competitive experience of winning games.” 

Falcons reached the EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16 in 2012-22 losing at home to Glasgow Warriors 27-17, while they went one better the year before, being knocked out by eventual finalists Leicester. 

This time around they take on 2018 Challenge Cup finalists Cardiff, and three-time semi-finalists Connacht. 

Goode thinks the trips away will be valuable for developing players, saying: “Connacht’s always a great trip away but a tough place to go and win.

“The Galway Sportsgrounds there, the support they get is fantastic and it is a great night out. I am sure they’ll look forward to that.  

“Conversely, when Connacht go over to Newcastle, it is a tough place to win. Conditions up there in December/January are always hard, but it is a great night out as well.  

“They’ll look forward to the experiences.” 

The 2022/23 Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup will be the most exciting yet. 

With the inclusion of South African clubs, there will be new rivalries between clubs who have never played each other, and former Irish international Rob Kearney is thrilled by their introduction. 

Kearney said: “I think it is brilliant for the competition. I think everyone is really excited to come and see them finally join this competition.  

“Of course, they bring a huge amount of size and power, which is something we know the French do already.

“But having that added dimension of the South African teams doing it too is going to make this a much more difficult competition to win.

“I think for us as supporters and fans that is ultimately what we want to see. I think it is fantastic that they’re joining and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they fare.” 

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the tournament organiser for the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, featuring the very best club rugby teams from England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and – for the first time from the 2022/23 season – South Africa.