Former Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Peter Russell faces the biggest test of his new Northern Hemisphere career to date when his English Rugby Championship-leading Newcastle Falcons play a first round British and Irish Cup match this week.
Relegated from the Premiership in May and appointing Russell as head coach to help recover their position, the Falcons have won their first six competition matches of the season. The northeast side's latest victory was a a 53-13 win over west midlands team Moseley at the weekend.
Newcastle take a two point competition lead over fellow unbeaten side Bedford Blues as the Championship hibernates for a fortnight for the first two rounds of the B&I; Cup.
In a competition of 32 teams from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, separated into eight pools, teams play home and away against each of the other three teams in their pools. The top team in each pool qualifies for the quarter-finals.
On Saturday, the Falcons have a home first-round match against Cross Keys, the Welsh club beaten in last season's Cup final in April, but which then won the Welsh knockout title.