Joel Hodgson believes positive memories of Kingsholm can help propel Newcastle Falcons to their first ever European final as they visit Gloucester Rugby on Friday.
A fine goal-kicking performance from the fly-half helped the Falcons to a 21-20 Aviva Premiership triumph at the same venue on March 3 as Hodgson’s men recorded their second successive victory at the home of the Cherry and Whites, and the stakes could barely be higher going into Friday’s European Challenge Cup semi-final.
The winner will meet Cardiff Blues or French club Pau in the final in Bilbao on Friday May 11, Hodgson stating: “Gloucester is a phenomenal place to go and play, and we enjoy it.
“We’ve won our last couple there in the league, we have had some good battles there and we know we have to be on top of our game to put away a good Gloucester side.
“They’re going really well at the moment, scoring tries for fun and we certainly have to front up in defence. When we do get the ball we need to keep hold of it, be accurate in what we do, and it’s nice in games like this not to have to think about playing for bonus points or home advantage. It’s a straight shoot-out, you just need one more point than the opposition and that’s certainly our mind-set going into it.”
The 25-year-old is the most accurate goal-kicker in this season’s Challenge Cup after landing all 12 of his shots at goal this season, Newcastle winning all seven of their games in the competition after putting away Enisei-STM, Bordeaux-Begles and Dragons in the group stage, followed by a 25-10 triumph over Brive in the quarter-finals.
“It would be a great achievement for the club to reach our first ever European final, and we’re also right in that play-off mix in the Premiership,” said Hodgson, the academy product who has made 105 appearances for the club over two spells.
“The business end of the season sees us alive in multiple competitions, and that was always the vision that Dean Richards and Semore Kurdi had for the club when they first came on board. We’re slowly implementing that plan, it’s no surprise to us how well we have gone this season but it’s still new to a lot of us.
“It’s great to be a Newcastle lad playing for a Falcons team who are doing so well, and I’m lucky to have great players everywhere I look here.
“The progress we have made has been a huge collective effort, everyone understands and buys into the game plan, and it’s not just a one-man show. Everyone has their part, and if they do that on Friday we’ll have another victory to enjoy. If we handle the occasion correctly I’ve no doubt we have what it takes.”
Holding his nerve with a late long-range penalty and a last-minute conversion during last Friday’s dramatic 35-30 home win over Sale Sharks, Hodgson said: “The Sale game had a bit of everything.
“We started really well, stuck to the script and scored some good tries to go 25-0 up, but lapses of concentration on our part allowed them back into it. Fortunately the boys showed enough resilience and determination to get back on track, our bench had a lot of impact and the energy we had late on proved to be just enough.
“There were a few inaccuracies and a couple of bouts of handbags which saw us losing our intensity and tempo a little bit, and we can’t afford a repeat of that. It’s about how we overcome those setbacks as a team, and we eventually did. We left it a little longer than we would have liked, but in the past that was a game we would have lost. We’ve grown as a team, as a club in general, and we just have that understanding of how to get ourselves out of a hole.
“What you saw during the couple of scuffles is that we’re a team who have each other’s backs, and nobody took a backward step. The key thing is not allowing those moments of high adrenalin to distract our attention away from the game plan or from the focus on what we want do. We started dropping passes and giving away silly penalties last Friday, and that allowed Sale to get a foot-hold in the game. The good thing was we had the nous to still get the result, despite that middle part of the game.”