The 3pm kick-off at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena is the first of four group games, the four pool winners going through to the semi-final stage.
Former RGS Newcastle centre Wilson (18) is combining his senior academy contact at the Falcons with an economics degree at Durham University, while outside back Cowell (21) is in his first year with the club after joining from the England Sevens squad.
Both players form part of a Newcastle side showing the full 15 changes from last weekend’s Aviva Premiership clash with Leicester Tigers, England Saxons prop Scott Wilson making his first start of the season in a front row which sees Frenchman Sami Mavinga starting for the first time since his summer arrival from Lyon.
Ryan Burrows captains the team from blind-side flanker after impressing in the European Challenge Cup, Callum Chick back at No 8 after returning from the ankle injury he sustained in the Premiership win at Sale Sharks eight weeks ago.
Scottish lock Andrew Davidson features for the first time this season in a side which sees a first start of the campaign for scrum-half Michael Young – Craig Willis partnering him in the half-backs. Maxime Mermoz comes in at inside centre, Adam Radwan returning on the wing after starting both European Challenge Cup games while Belisario Agulla comes on to the other wing.
The Falcons have also shuffled their managerial ranks this week with James Ponton (academy head coach), Scott MacLeod (line-out coach) and Mark Laycock (academy manager and first team skills coach) taking the lead.
Laycock said: “It has been a good week and it’s great for Jimmy, Scotty and myself to get a little bit more hands-on with the players. We’ve tweaked a few things and are trialling a few things away from the pressures of the Aviva Premiership, and hopefully we’ll get some learning from that.
“Everyone is excited about playing in this game and I think most clubs are in a similar position when it comes to the Anglo-Welsh Cup in terms of having some guys who need game time and others who need a rest. It’s a big chance for players to showcase themselves on a bigger stage, make an impression and we have a good blend of more experienced players and younger lads this weekend.
“We have a few lads making debuts or stepping into the team after a while being out, and they all deserve that opportunity. They’ve worked hard in pre-season and during the campaign, and really been a part of the group. They now have the chance to show it on a bigger stage and it can cause Dean Richards a few more selection headaches if they rise to the challenge.”
On teenage debutant Wilson, Laycock said: “Charlie had a bit of game time during pre-season and really impressed us during those outings. He’s fresh out of school, a very intelligent rugby player who understands the game really well and he has fitted into our systems with relative ease. We’re all excited to see him play and it’s fantastic that he has a guy like Maxime Mermoz alongside him for his first game of senior rugby. I don’t think he’ll be fazed by it.”
Handing a third start of the season to Adam Radwan, Laycock added: “When Adam came into our junior academy he’ll be the first to admit he was very raw, and our view at that time was that he wasn’t quite ready for the rigours of the professional game. He was released by us and went away with some things he was told to improve on, credit to him for doing those things and he has accelerated really quickly as a result.
“It’s a great story in the sense it reassures people that being released by the academy doesn’t mean the end of the road, and we have a strong associate academy network which helps with that. We’re really pleased that Adam has taken the advice on board, he has come on as a player and he is reaping the rewards of the hard work he has put in. He has been mature in dealing with little setbacks along the way and he’s a major talent.”
Outlining the Falcons’ approach to the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Laycock said: “If you ask Dean he’ll tell you he wants to win every game we play in every single competition we’re involved in, and it’s the same for us. We want to go down to Wasps, win this weekend and win the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Time will tell if that’s going to be possible but we want to do well on all fronts, and we as coaches will do everything we can to make that happen.
“Everyone understands the importance of where the club is at and where it’s going to get to, and putting the team first is the main thing. The guys who haven’t been in the match-day 23 much this season have been excellent, a lot of them have got their chance this weekend and it’s a really supportive environment with lots of competition in every position. As long as you’re honest with players you generally get that collective buy-in, and that’s all you can do.
“On the team side, the message for us this week has been to concentrate on us doing our basics well rather than focusing too much on Wasps.
“They’re a great side and they didn’t come second in the Premiership for nothing, so we know what we’re up against. Their Premiership team has definitely turned a corner with a couple of big wins recently, and they’re getting better. The personnel will be a bit different on Saturday but we know they’ll still have some key ball carriers, some creative players and pace out wide. In defence we know they’ll look to get a bit of line-speed against us, it’s vital that we keep our patience, look after the ball and hopefully gaps will open up from there.
“Everyone was obviously very disappointed with what happened last weekend against Leicester, and it would be fair to say there was some very frank talk in the changing room afterwards. In fairness to the players they’ve taken everything on board and really started addressing the areas where we needed to be better, and hopefully when it comes to the return of Premiership rugby in a fortnight we’re back on track after what was only a blip in an overall positive start to the season.
“Leicester showed their quality with a couple of world class moments and the game kind of ran away from us, and the frustrating thing was that we were still in the contest going into the last quarter despite not having played very well. The players afterwards all knew what we needed to do better, it didn’t need any input from the coaches and we have a group who will bounce back from that disappointment.”
Newcastle Falcons team to face Wasps (Saturday, 3pm, Ricoh Arena)
15 Cameron Cowell
14 Adam Radwan
13 Charlie Wilson
12 Maxime Mermoz
11 Belisario Agulla
10 Craig Willis
9 Michael Young
1 Sami Mavinga
2 Santiago Socino
3 Scott Wilson
4 Will Witty
5 Andrew Davidson
6 Ryan Burrows (captain)
7 Gary Graham
8 Callum Chick
16 Ben Sowrey
17 Trevor Davison
18 David Wilson
19 Simon Uzokwe
20 Glen Young
21 Ruaridh Dawson
22 Zach Kibirige
23 Joel Hodgson
Referee: Dan Jones (Wales)