Director of rugby Dean Richards hailed the never-say-die spirit of his Newcastle Falcons side on Saturday as a last-minute Brett Connon penalty gave them their first ever win at the Ricoh Arena.
Beating Wasps 20-19 in a Gallagher Premiership nail-biter which builds further momentum for their survival scrap, Richards said: “It was a bit tense towards the end, we made hard work of it but we stuck together, and one thing you can never question with these boys is their character.”
Replacement fly-half Brett Connon held his nerve to strike the decisive penalty at the death, Richards saying: “Brett did well, but we were joking when he came on that he’d missed a kick from virtually the exact same position during the warm-up.
“The beauty of Brett working with someone like Toby Flood is that he’ll learn how to rectify things, and how to deal with the mental side of things. That’s what he did, and thankfully it went over.”
Finding room for improvement despite the victory, the Falcons boss said: “We’re not fully happy with the performance, but the great thing about this squad is that the players are very self-critical and will pick through their own game to find where they can improve.
“They push themselves to the limit every week in their preparation, they’re hyper-critical of themselves and that’s a nice thing for a coach to be able to work with. They all went to get out there and become better players, and I can’t ask for any more than that.
“We probably gave Wasps too much credit in the first half, we allowed them to play too much but, in fairness, we started the second half better.
“When we got the ball and held on to it we were a little bit more dangerous than they probably were, but we fluffed a couple of chances and left a couple of tries out there. That was disappointing, but nonetheless we’re delighted to have come away with the win.”
Richards added: “We had a ten-minute spell during the second half where we conceded a soft try, which was just a missed tackle, and we’ve got to be making those.
“Having said that, I thought guys like Nemani Nagusa and Kyle Cooper added a lot from the bench when they came on, as did Evan Olmstead. They helped get us on the front foot, and ultimately Brett came on to nail that big kick right at the end.
“Our discipline wasn’t great on the day, we conceded a number of soft penalties but we were always within a shout. Our forward carriers got us into position, we always felt we would get a penalty or drop-goal opportunity if we continued to build that pressure and in the end that’s how it unfolded.”
Giving further speed to their race to remain in the top-flight, Richards said: “We said we needed to win five out of the last eight, and that’s two wins now with six games remaining.
“We need three more wins in my mind, but the beauty is we have six games left and four of them at home.”
The next of those comes on Saturday March 23 when Newcastle Falcons play in The Big One at St James’ Park. Tickets for the 5.30pm Gallagher Premiership kick-off against Sale Sharks can be bought by clicking here.