New Zealander Jimmy Gopperth starts for Newcastle against Montauban this evening
Newcastle Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth says he is relishing the chance to test himself in a brand new environment.
The New Zealander moved to the North East of England this summer having established a fine reputation representing the Hurricanes and the Blues in the Super 14.
The 26-year-old has been in impressive form for the Falcons so far this season, with Steve Bates' squad sitting seventh in the Guinness Premiership table and having recorded back-to-back wins in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Newcastle face French outfit Montauban at Kingston Park this evening and Gopperth admits that European competition provides that little something extra for everybody at the club.
"It's always good to play against teams from different countries and with different styles of rugby," said Gopperth, who starts alongside the returning Micky Young at halfback for the Flacons tonight.
"The Amlin Challenge Cup is a brilliant competition. It breaks up the Premiership.
"You've got the French and the Italians involved and they bring a different flavour. That makes things pretty exciting.
"I know a couple of players in the Montauban team so it'll be good to catch up with them. I know Shannon Paku well - I played with him quite a bit at Wellington. Vilimoni Delasau, who used to play in New Zealand, is there as well.
"Thursday night is a big match for us. We've been going quite well in the competition so we're looking forward to it."
Unlike a number of other high-profile foreign recruits in the British and Irish game, Gopperth has settled into his new life remarkably quickly.
His individual performances have seen him immediately become a fans' favourite with the Falcons faithful but the man himself credits the family atmosphere around the club as the primary reason for his own success.
Gopperth certainly hasn't had any trouble readjusting, even if he admits that there are still some major differences between rugby in the northern and southern hemispheres.
"It's brilliant over here, I'm really enjoying it," added Gopperth.
"Our season back home was 15 weeks maximum. Over here, we slog it out for nine months! But it's good to be playing week-in-week-out.
"Last weekend was probably the first time I've got dirty playing rugby in five or six years, so that was quite interesting! You've got to get used to it, play smart and use the ball wisely.
"All the boys have made me very welcome, and also their families as well. To come into a place where everyone welcomes you and invites you round for a cup of tea or whatever is great. It's like a family that we've got going on with the whole group."
Newcastle go into this evening's game on the back of a disappointing league defeat at Gloucester in their last outing less than a week ago but Gopperth claims there is no danger of a negative atmosphere surrounding the clash with Montauban.
The club experienced a huge turnover of players during the off season and the former North Harbour star believes that progress is being made far quicker than many critics expected.
Gopperth admits that both he and the club and are currently on a steep learning curve but that the signs suggest a bright future for the Falcons - a future that he hopes lies in the Heineken Cup.
"We've got to stay positive and concentrate on the little things," added Gopperth.
"There were so many positive things to take from that first half at Gloucester, and maybe on a drier track we could have scored a lot of points. But you've also got to look at the negatives and why we didn't create a similar amount of ball in the second half.
"There's so many new guys but we've come together quite tight and we're a good little unit. More and more game time will give us more experience as a side.
"The Heineken Cup's definitely something I'd love to play in. As a brand new team, qualifying would be a huge confidence boost for the team and something we could be really proud of."
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