Newcastle Falcons have settled into life in Philadelphia ahead of Saturday’s Aviva Premiership match against Saracens at Talen Energy Stadium.
The squad arrived in the States on Sunday night and, after a team meeting on Monday morning, began training later that day at the state-of-the-art facilities at University of Pennsylvania.
The Falcons go into Saturday’s 5pm kick-off (10pm UK time) placed second in the Aviva Premiership table, tied on points with leaders Wasps, having won both of their league outings so far.
In European champions Saracens they know they will face a fierce opponent, but fly-half Craig Willis is backing the Falcons to carry on the form which has already seen them defeating Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks this season.
He said: “People outside of the club might be surprised that we’re up around the top of the league, but this is where we thought we would be.
“It has only been two games so it’s early doors really, and nobody is getting carried away in the slightest. It’s great for our supporters and everybody who has backed the club to see us in those kinds of positions, and as a group of players and coaches we’re really ambitious.
“We’ve had a good pre-season, it has been tailored to our needs and we’re just building on the hard work of last season. There have been some good additions, we’re a tight group and we’re just quietly going about our work.”
Delighted to be playing a part in the squad for this week’s trip, Willis said: “This is my first time in America but I’ve always been interested in coming over, so it’s great to finally be here and be part of this event. From the Falcons’ side it’s a great opportunity spread awareness about the club, commercially it’s beneficial and for the Aviva Premiership as a whole it puts the league out there on the international stage.
“America is a potential hotbed for rugby. We know there’s already a decent rugby community and it’s a case of building from that foundation.
“The travel won’t be an issue and we’ve put plans in place to deal with our recovery. The coaches and our strength and conditioning staff are on top of all that stuff, and nothing is being left to chance. We’re here for the full week, we’re preparing in a thorough way and it’s absolutely fine in that sense.”
No 8 Ryan Burrows is among the players in the States as he awaits his Aviva Premiership debut, having captained Yorkshire Carnegie in last year’s Championship final.
He said: “It’s been good so far. The weather here helps, with it being nice, and we’ve began to see a little bit of the place. We trained on Monday and visited the Philadelphia store of one of our official partners, Barbour, to help promote the game. We’re serious about how we’re approaching this week and the approach from the boys has been spot-on.
“I think it’s a great idea bringing an Aviva Premiership game over here, personally. It’s a global game nowadays, we want to spread the sport and it’s good as a player to have these opportunities.
“My time at Newcastle has been great so far. There’s a real buzz about the club, things are getting better all the time and that all comes from the great work the lads did last season. We’ve built on that against Worcester with a big home win, we ground one out at Sale and then a challenge like this week in America is something else to get excited about.
“If you’re going to move a game 3,500 miles from home it might as well be against the European champions. Sarries have been one of the top teams for a number of years now, we know what they bring and there’s no better game with which to test ourselves.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game (5pm local time, 10pm UK time) are available by clicking here.
UK viewers can catch all the action live on BT Sport, with Newcastle Falcons hosting a special screening at Kingston Park Stadium.
From 7pm until 8.30pm season ticket holders and seasonal corporate guests are invited to an exclusive 'meet the players' event. Season ticket holders wishing to attend are required to register by Tuesday September 12 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org , calling 0871 226 6060 or visiting the club shop in person during opening hours.
At 8.30pm the event is opened up to non-season ticket members, with food served. Season ticket members and seasonal hospitality guests are entitled to a free burger and chips, with non-season ticket members paying £10. For a further £10, both season ticket and non-season ticket holders can upgrade to a full American buffet.
The evening will conclude with a big-screen showing of the Falcons v Saracens match (kick-off 10pm UK time), with the bar open for the duration.