Centre Luther Burrell is backing Newcastle Falcons to finish the season strongly as they make the Gallagher Premiership trip to Wasps on Saturday.
Last Friday’s 36-28 Premiership Rugby Cup victory over Leicester Tigers marked a turning point for the Kingston Park club after a string of near misses, and the former Premiership champion believes that form will continue during the league run-in as they head to Coventry this weekend.
“It’s massive how much a victory can change the mood in camp, even if it’s in a different tournament,” said the 15-times-capped England international, who has made 20 appearances for the Falcons since returning from rugby league.
“It’s never good for a team to be on a losing streak, but what we’ve done is stayed motivated and really looked at ourselves.
“The last three or four performances in the Premiership have been improving and we’ve played some good stuff, without quite being able to get over the line. So for us, getting that win last weekend against Leicester in the cup marked a big momentum shift, and we’re all working hard now to build on it.”
Up against a Wasps outfit eight points and three places ahead of Newcastle in the table, Burrell said: “We’re going into the weekend as underdogs, and Wasps will be underestimating us by looking at our league results.
“That’s fine, we’ll travel there as everyone’s outsiders, put our best foot forward and really take the challenge to them.”
Asked going into the game whether the absence of a team dropping down to the Championship has changed the Falcons’ mind-set, the centre insisted: “As a player, the fact that there’s no relegation this season makes absolutely no difference to us.
“You never want to lose a game in any competition, and you won’t stay in this environment if you allow yourself to switch off. You’re going to get pulled up by your peers if nothing else, and the mentality of anyone in professional sport is going all-out to win every single time you take the field.
“You could argue that from the coaches’ point of view it allows them to take what some people might perceive to be a risk in terms of selecting some younger players, but when you look at the quality of a Will Haydon-Wood coming into our side, it’s actually no risk at all.
“He’s a quality player, as are the other lads who have come in and done so well this season, and he’s taken his opportunity with both hands.
“Would he have been given that same opportunity if there had been relegation in the Premiership this season?
“It’s impossible to really answer that. I guess naturally some coaches might turn to their more experienced players if they’re scrapping it out for relegation, but as things stand we’ve got guys like Will coming in to the top flight and showing the incredible ability they’ve got.
“That has to be a positive, and if my role is to help these guys push through then I’m more than happy to do that. It might just be by giving them that bit of confidence, little pointers here and there and reassuring them that mistakes happen in games. It’s about how you react when those things crop up during matches, and I enjoy that role within the group after some of the things I’ve been through in my career.”
Confident that last weekend’s win can help point his team on an upward trajectory, he added: “We know exactly where we’re going as a group because we’ve seen the improvement in performances, even if the results haven’t necessarily reflected that. This weekend will mark an important milestone in terms of turning that into league wins, and we’re pushing on for a strong back end to the season.
“The most over-used word in sport is ‘momentum’, but you can’t escape it being a key factor for us. You have certain shifts in games, as you do during seasons, and now that we’ve finally got that win under our belts I can see us doing really well over the remaining few months.”
Supporters who are unable to attend Saturday’s 3pm kick-off can click here to buy the PRTV Live stream of the game, which is priced at £4.99 for the single match, or £6.99 for a round pass, which includes all games not being shown live on BT Sport or ITV.