Joel Hodgson believes Newcastle Falcons can take the next step in their development as a team by defeating Saracens in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership encounter in Philadelphia.
The Falcons’ unbeaten start to the league season gets put to the test against the European champions at Talen Energy Stadium, and fly-half Hodgson says they're in the mood to fear no-one.
“We’re absolutely confident we can come away with the points from this one," said the Newcastle native, who started in the recent victories over Worcester Warriors and Sale Sharks.
“The way we finished last season and the start we’ve had this time round, we’re seeing that we can beat people when we get it right. That’s our main focus, executing our game plan, and we believe we will cause them problems. In recent seasons we’ve been in a good game with them for an hour before they’ve pulled away, and it’s a case of taking that next step for what would be a historic win.”
Enjoying the experience of having a full week on America’s sunny East coast, Hodgson said: “It has been awesome out here, the boys have worked hard and had a great time.
“Training in the heat has been a bit of a challenge but we’ve coped well, and it has been a great experience. The one thing we’re clear about is that we’re here for one reason only, to beat Saracens. Everyone is aware of that, staff included, and although it has been a nice change of scenery it’s important to remember the professional mind-set we’ve come here with.
“In terms of the wider aspects of our visit, as soon as people hear a different accent or see a different jersey they’re keen to know who we are, what we’re about, and the response to us being here has been great. People have asked questions and shown a genuine interest, and we’ve been stopped in the street quite a few times.
“Rugby as a sport is really growing at the moment and if we can conquer the United States in some way it would be another major boost. That’s not going to happen overnight but we feel like we’re making inroads, and that it has been a worthwhile experience coming over.
“This is a sports-mad part of the world and we’ve absolutely loved that side of things. Everyone in the family gets involved, the crowds for their traditional sports are massive and we’re just trying to get a slice of that. Every chance rugby gets to represent itself here it has to be in a positive light, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
On his side’s unbeaten start to the campaign after grinding out a 13-12 triumph at Sale last Friday, the fly-half was at pains to thank the tireless work of his forward pack.
“Everyone in our back line is aware of what that front eight did at Sale last Friday night in getting us the win – not just with the maul to seal it at the end but also an outstanding set-piece performance and physicality in the open field,” said the former Northampton and Yorkshire Carnegie man.
“Our pack hit hard in defence, they carried hard with the ball and Calum Green got up for a load of line-out steals. The result was testament to them because they dominated those parts of the game, and to be honest they bailed us out.
“This year there’s a massive focus on sticking to our guns and making sure we execute our game plan, because it’s a good plan and it’s extremely difficult to stop when we do it well. In our opening game against Worcester we were closer to that than last week’s match at Sale, but our defence and our forwards meant we were able to win ugly. That’s what good teams do, and it’s encouraging that we’re starting to add that string to our bow.”
Well aware of the challenge that awaits on Saturday, he added: “Saracens are a world-class outfit with Lions and internationals throughout, but what a great opportunity for us to test ourselves.
“In terms of their game plan people are used to the Saracens war machine just grinding it out over the past few years, but with all that talent we also have to remember they’ve got the ability to play an attacking brand of rugby. We’ve got to be on our guard defensively and understand that if we get one thing wrong they will punish us, so it’s 100% accuracy and concentration from minute one to minute 80.”
Tickets for Saturday’s game are available by clicking here, while more than 200 supporters will be at Kingston Park Stadium for a live screening of the event on BT Sport.