Director of rugby Dean Richards admitted it was a game of two halves as Newcastle Falcons suffered a 59-33 Premiership Rugby Cup semi-final defeat at Northampton Saints on Saturday.
The Falcons flew out of the blocks and led 21-0, then 28-7, before suffering a second-half deluge against a Saints side who had lost the last five meetings between the two clubs.
Speaking afterwards, Richards said: “The first half was great to watch if you were a Newcastle fan and the second half was if you’re a Saints fan, and it was a game which had a lot of ebbs and flows. Sadly we came out on the wrong side of it.
“We were 28-7 up at one stage and were on fire, but we’ve got too many boys who are coming back from injury and hadn’t played for a long time. In that squad there were probably seven or eight who haven’t played for a while, and it showed on the day.
“In the first half-hour we got things right, our accuracy was good, but as soon as we tired we began to drop off. Northampton have been playing together a lot, and it showed as the game went on.
“The positives are that the things we worked on in training, we put into practice. To get 28 points so early on was testament to that, but out fitness levels and our conditioning levels I don’t think are quite right. The boys just aren’t fit enough, some of them mainly because they’ve not played for a while, and we’ve got to look at it very closely.”
Richards added: “You have to get things into perspective in terms of the guys we had away – a whole front row in Sam Lockwood, George McGuigan and Jon Welsh, a second row in Sean Robinson and Will Witty, a back row in Gary Graham, John Hardie and Mark Wilson, half-backs in Michael Young, Joel Hodgson and Toby Flood, and we lost two centres today through injury.
“You have to look at the full picture to understand how the result came about in the way that it did, and we picked up a couple of injuries today which is a bit worrying. We’ll see how those guys are in the next day or two, and hopefully we might get one or two back for next weekend at Bath.”