Excitement building ahead of Saturday's Sandy Park showdown
Excitement is high in the Newcastle Falcons camp ahead of this weekend’s European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter final against Exeter Chiefs, with centre Chris Harris saying the team are fully focused on continuing their progress in the competition.
“The boys are buzzing, it’s quarter final rugby and there’s a chance to progress and take another step toward getting a trophy at the end of it, so yeah the boys are really excited about going to try and get that win and progress.”
With both sides having taken an Aviva Premiership in each in their head to head’s this season, spectators on the outside are tipping home advantage to count this weekend, but for Harris, things are less clear cut.
“Yeah we went down there and got beat pretty heavily in February and yeah, we are still using it as a bit of motivation to make sure it doesn’t happen again but we’ve been looking at their more recent games as it’s more about recent performance rather than what it was back then.”
“Exeter are a really good side and have got some decent players so they will look to play. They’ll be really confident after putting plenty points on us at their place so they will look to play quite a bit.”
“We’re not going to do anything we don’t normally do though, we’re just going to make sure we are there from the start, stick to what we do and stick to our systems and hopefully we’ll be sweet and get the result.”
Taking part in their first quarter final in European competition since 2009, the Falcons’ cup campaign has arguably been even more impressive, in terms of performance, than the Aviva Premiership season that has earned praise.
Impressive wins against Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales and Stade Francais in Newcastle have laid the foundations for qualification and Harris believes the club’s decision to field a largely young, English qualified side in those stages, played a key role for their progress.
“I think in the earlier stages there were a lot more new faces, it was boys going out to prove a point in a way because some boys hadn’t played for a while.
“There were also some younger boys like Tom Penny, George McGuigan, Dan Temm and myself all coming in are really excited just to get that jersey for the first time and play. It was a buzz and excitement from them which shows in the performances they’ve put in on the field.”
Those performances yielded four wins in the group stages and 29 tries being scored suggesting a much more open and attacking tournament than the Premiership, but in Harris’ mind, in terms of game plans and strategies, the two are quite similar.
“I don’t think it is too different from the Premiership in general terms but there are different teams and different leagues involved. It’s the same mind-set and you go in with the same approach but you don’t play these teams as much so you need to look at them in a bit more detail.”
“For instance, when we play the French; French rugby is so much different, flinging offloads and not kicking as much so that’s probably the biggest change to the Premiership. Hoping to be involved at Sandy Park after a successful return from injury, saw Harris gab his fourth Premiership try of the season last weekend, the 25 year old is pleased to be back and picking up where he left off.
“I haven’t really played since the Newport game, I had a few weeks out with a shoulder knock and played down at Rotherham and then my knee swelled up and I had another few weeks out so it’s just nice to get that little stint of injury out the way and just get back out on the park.”
“It was nice to get a score, it always is but its not something I set out looking to do in the game and as for the second, I was just the link man! I just got on the end of a nice little offload from Taity and was able to pop it out to Powelly. Alex definitely made it I think!”