Zach Kibirige is ready to reignite Newcastle Falcons’ Premiership Rugby Cup flame at Harlequins on Sunday after admitting to mixed emotions last weekend.
The Teessider marked his 24th birthday by scoring a hat-trick of tries in the 22-22 home draw with Exeter Chiefs, saying: “It was nice to get three tries but frustrating not to record the win, especially from the position we’d put ourselves in at 12 points up with 15 minutes to go.
“You’ve definitely got to be putting games to bed in those circumstances but it came down to individual errors, from myself included, and that was the disappointing aspect.
“It felt like a loss rather than a draw, to be honest, but we have to remember there was actually some decent rugby played as well.”
Elaborating on the positives from last weekend and looking forward to Sunday’s televised encounter at the Twickenham Stoop, Kibirige said: “We were pretty good on the counter-attack, our ball-in-hand caused Exeter quite a lot of threat and I thought the kicking game of Sam Stuart and Brett Connon in the half-backs was excellent.
“Some of our attacking shape can be tightened up and we can look after the ball a bit better, but other than that we were looking dangerous at times.
“In terms of what Harlequins will offer, traditionally they are a team who like to play and to keep the ball alive, and from analysing some of their recent games that’s definitely a philosophy they’ve stuck to.
“We can look at that and in some ways exploit it by putting them in the wrong areas of the field from their perspective. If they try and play out then our defence has to rise to that challenge, but they’re obviously a dangerous side and we’re by no means taking them lightly.”
Benefiting from the opportunity offered by the Premiership Rugby Cup, he added: “From a playing point of view the cup is obviously great in terms of giving guys an opportunity to play, and from the coaching side it has been fantastic to see guys like Mark Laycock and James Ponton getting more of a role.
“That’s obviously not meant in a negative way towards any of our other coaches, but it’s naturally refreshing to hear different voices and try things in a slightly different way. The focus has been tweaked a bit and other guys have been given a rest, which is what you want in terms of driving the competition within the group.
“The positivity has been high as a result of what we have done in Europe and what we’re starting to show in the cup, the hope being of course that we can translate that momentum into the Premiership in a few weeks.”
Asked if he expects to be a marked man at the Twickenham Stoop in the wake of last weekend’s hat-trick, Kibirige said: “I don’t know about that.
“We have enough threats in our team and I don’t think Quins are naïve enough to focus on just one player, but if I do get extra attention in defence then it means there’s a hole somewhere else on the field for us to exploit.
“There are so many of us on the pitch who are capable of creating things that I don’t think Quins would focus overly on any one person, and the thing for us is just to get our stuff right as a collective no matter who’s out there for us.”