Newcastle Falcons Under-18s travel to Northampton Saints on Saturday knowing that a win will see them finishing the league season on top of the northern group.
The last regular-season round of the Premiership Rugby U18s Academy League sees the Falcons travelling for a 2pm kick-off at Franklin’s Gardens, looking to secure top seeding for national finals day in Worcester on Sunday February 27.
That feat is all the more remarkable considering the fact the Falcons lost the first two of their games in the competition, going down 20-14 at Wasps and then 24-27 at home to Leicester Tigers.
Newcastle responded magnificently by winning their next three games, away to Sale Sharks (12-26), at home to Worcester Warriors (31-10) and at home to Yorkshire (24-14).
Academy head coach James Ponton spelled out the task, saying: “We are currently one point behind Sale, but they have played all six of their games, so if we win down at Northampton on Saturday we’ll finish top of the northern group for the first time in the competition’s history.
“It’s quite good in the sense that we’re not reliant on other results or worrying about bonus points and points difference – it’s basically win the game and we finish top.
“The way the tournament works, there are two leagues of seven teams, split into north and south, and each team plays six games – one against each team in your division.
“This weekend is the final round of those league games, and once the league is finished there is then a finals day in Worcester on the 27th where north plays south - 1st v 1st, 2nd v 2nd, all the way down to 7th v 7th.
“So if we finish top of the northern group we’ll play the top team from the southern half of the competition, which is currently Bristol Bears going into their last round of regular-season games.”
Crediting his team for their resurgent form, Ponton said: “Considering the season is only six games long, and we lost our first two, it’s actually quite amazing that we’re now in this position.
“The two games we lost at the start saw us claiming bonus points, and then the three we’ve won since then have all had a four-try bonus point. It’s testament to the lads, really, because they’ve grown into the competition as it’s gone on.
“It’s taken us a little time to get going out of the lads’ school programmes and into our stuff, but we’ve played some good rugby.
“Northampton on Saturday will be a tough game because they’re a good side, but then so are we, and everyone is looking forward to it.
“We’ll be playing on the main field at Franklin’s Gardens, which again is great for the boys, and whatever happens they will definitely have benefited from the experience.”
Newcastle Falcons U18s v Northampton Saints U18s (Saturday, 2pm, Franklin's Gardens)
15 Ben Redshaw (Sedbergh School)
14 Natty Greenwood (Gosforth Academy & Whitley Bay Rockcliff)
13 Jez Civil (Gosforth Academy & Wensleydale)
12 Will Hindle (Gosforth Academy & Blaydon)
11 Toby Ferguson (QE Hexham & Tynedale)
10 Harry Williams (Barnard Castle School & Stockton)
9 Ben Douglas (Gosforth Academy & Northern)
1 Micky Rewcastle (Gosforth Academy & Blaydon)
2 Charlie Smith (Dame Allans & Novos)
3 Morgan Hall (Gosforth Academy & West Hartlepool)
4 Finn Baker (Sedbergh School)
5 Ayden Knott (Gosforth Academy & Consett)
6 Breamar Murray (Sedbergh School)
7 Ewan Venerus (RGS Newcastle & Novos)
8 Zach Oldham (Gosforth Academy & Carlisle)
16 Jacob Oliver (Barnard Castle School)
17 Isaac Keller (Gosforth Academy & Northern)
18 Sam Birkbeck (Kirkby Lonsdale)
19 Will Murray (Gosforth Novos)
20 Will Gibbons (Barnard Castle School)
21 Freddie Nickalls (RGS Newcastle & Novos)
22 Will Roue (Sedbergh School)
23 Tom Burton (Sedbergh School)