With only 26 non front row players able to be registered for Europe, of the 14 backs the Falcons selected back in September, six find themselves currently injured: Hall Charlton (knee), Lee Dickson (knee), Anthony Elliott (shoulder), Tom May (ankle), Jonny Wilkinson (groin) and Mark Wilkinson (shoulder), while Mathew Tait is on England Sevens duty.
At the time of having to name their 36 players for the tournament May, Elliott and Tait were all fit and available, while Phillips and Shaw were both sidelined with long term injuries, hence why they were not named in the original squad, so now the regulations have forced the Falcons to throw McCarthy in at the deep end after just two training sessions there on Wednesday.
Only after the full completion of the pool stages, in the last week of January, are the Falcons allowed to add two more to their list of registered players, plus one front rower.
Elsewhere in the side there is a second ever first team outing at loose head prop for Jonny Williams, the England Counties tourist back from knee surgery who put in a man-of-the-match performance last weekend against a big Stellenbosch University pack. He is joined in the front row by Italian prop Tino Paoletti and hooker Matt Thompson.
Colin Charvis returns to captain the team at No.8, and Scottish lock Stuart Grimes makes his first start of the season after being sidelined with a torn pectoral.
Dave Walder starts at fullback as Aussie veteran Matthew Burke has to cover every single back line position from the bench after starting all 14 competitive matches for the Falcons this season, with the chronic shortage of backs forcing a 6:1 split among the replacements, including three second rowers.
Speaking on the selection of McCarthy on the wing, director of rugby, Rob Andrew, said: The ERC registration rules are just bizarre, and the irony is that it makes their own competitions look stupid when you have the situation we are in, having two fit wingers available, but neither are allowed to play, and having to field a flanker out there.
To be restricted to 36 players, ten of which have to be front row, is a total nonsense when you consider we have around 44 players registered with us.
On the non-registration of Shaw and Phillips back in September, he added: Its an absolute joke. We have backs injured left right and centre, but we also have two guys in Ollie Phillips and Joe Shaw just back from long lay-offs. All they need is rugby, but because of some stupid rule they arent allowed, and we have to demean the competition by putting a flanker there.
They werent registered in September because they were long term injuries back then and we didnt know when they would be back, and with only 26 registrations available outside the front row, clubs have to make a lot of judgement calls on players very early in the season.
It just so happens we have a lot of forwards available at this time, and we have even had the luxury of allowing our prop Grant Anderson time off to go to his brothers wedding in Australia this weekend, but we have no spare backs at all.
We could have played Matt Burke on the wing technically, but hes started every single game for us this season, played every minute out of a possible 1,120 apart from ten at the end of the Saracens game, and at 32 theres a real danger he will break down if we dont give him a breather at some point.
Revealing why blindside flanker McCarthy was the man to get the nod in such unusual circumstances, Andrew said: Macca has played a bit of schools rugby on the wing, and in all honesty the pattern we play means he spends a fair amount of time in wide positions as it is. Hes trained there this week, and were confident he can do a job for us.
With the footballing ability in our squad there are quite a few forwards who could have a good go there, as Cory Harris did against Wasps a fortnight ago for 20 minutes. The natural candidate would have been Phil Dowson, but he is injured at the moment, so we have put our faith in Macca for this weekend, and hes taken up the challenge.
There is good news, however, with the return of Scottish lock Stuart Grimes from long term injury, with Andrew stating ironically : Its just our luck that the bloke retires from international rugby, and then we only see him on the pitch for ten minutes between September and December.
After an 18-18 draw against a young Leeds team in the Powergen Cup last Friday Andrew decided to give his players total rest until this Wednesday, explaining: The lads looked tired on Friday, both physically and mentally after a very quick turnaround from an exhausting game against Wasps, so we gave them Monday and Tuesday off this week to basically recharge the batteries.
Weve come out of a very tiring and stressful month, so we felt the rest was needed, but they were in training twice yesterday and they look extremely bright and refreshed.
These two games against LAquila will hopefully allow us to work on some things we need improving, play some good rugby and then attack the Premiership revitalised after Christmas going in to some very big games against Leeds and Worcester.
Asked what he can expect from Saturdays Italian hosts, Andrew said: They had a good win over Viadana at the weekend, and they were very competitive against Borders earlier in the competition.
Weve watched that game on video, and although it wasnt a classic they did show that they have some good players, particularly the No.8 and the fly half. They all worked hard, but what we did see was that when they were forced in to the multi phase stuff they lost their way a bit.
Their basics look pretty solid, but the Borders scored five tries there and bombed a load more, so as long as we are mentally in the right frame of mind we believe we can exploit the space in their defence. We also hope to put in to practice quite a lot of the forward stuff that Peter Walton has been working on with the forwards in training, and to get some more confidence in that area.
Newcastle Falcons team to face LAquila:
15 Dave Walder
14 Mike McCarthy
13 Jamie Noon
12 Mark Mayerhofler
11 James Hoyle
10 Toby Flood
9 James Grindal
1 Jonny Williams
2 Matt Thompson
3 Tino Paoletti
4 Andy Perry
5 Stuart Grimes
6 Owen Finegan
7 Cory Harris
8 Colin Charvis (captain)
16 Robbie Morris
17 Andy Long
18 Luke Gross
19 Geoff Parling
20 Andy Buist
21 Matthew Burke
22 Ben Woods