Alex Tait has highlighted strength in depth as the biggest differential behind Newcastle Falcons’ improved Aviva Premiership performance, as they prepare for Friday’s trip to Sale Sharks.
The full-back has been a key cog for a Falcons side who have already won more league games this season than they did during the whole of the last campaign, saying: “The club is in a good place.
“From my point of view the biggest change has been just the quality of players we have around – especially in the back line. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a coach this week picking the team to face Sale, knowing I’d have to leave out a number of players who would probably start for a lot of other Premiership clubs.
“We haven’t always had that quality below our starting XV in past seasons, and the other thing is that the coaching has been really good. The messages going to the players have been very consistent from the management over the course of the season, there is a hunger and competition within the squad and your standards need to be high if you want to stay in the team. That has been the big driving force that Dean is getting through to us.”
Tait, 28, already has 194 first team appearances under his belt, so is well qualified to judge the current crop against what has gone before.
“I’ve said in private to the boys a number of times that this is one of the best squads I’ve been involved with, and you can certainly see that with the names who are on the bench or not even in the match-day 23,” he said.
“I definitely think that, and it’s pushing standards in training. It builds towards a better product. In previous years when I’ve been here you have a key injury and you’re in a bit of trouble. You’re not as confident going into games, but it’s different now in that sense.
“There is some good stuff going on, especially with boys coming back from injuries, and we’re all bouncing to get into the league games again. It’s a cliché to say the mood is good in the camp, but it is. Everyone is full of confidence and we’re excited about the games coming up.”
Setting his sights higher than a mere scrap for survival, the Co Durham native said: “I’ve been through a few of those, and obviously that’s not ideal. You’d rather have getting up the table as your main motivation rather than simply surviving in the division, but I don’t think we can rest on our laurels just because we’re a little bit ahead of that.
“We can’t say we’re happy with our season, because the reality is we’re not, even though we’re not worrying about relegation. You never know what’s going to happen and sides down near the bottom could go on a great run, but we’re not thinking about it that way. We’re just thinking about pushing on as a club, and if we want to do that we’ve got to get on and show it on the field.
“I just don’t want us to have the mind-set that this season is finished because we don’t have to worry about relegation. Let’s be a team that actually goes and does it this year. I’ve been a Falcons player for a long time now, and let’s have a really exciting season. If we can get in that top six we can build, players will want to come here, more people will want to come to watch us and it all grows from there.
“We all know these games are difficult but we are really targeting this block. I can’t wait to get back into it, and all the boys feel the same. We had a meeting this morning where they played a video to us showing loads of the nice things we’ve done in our recent games, and it was really exciting. It got us motivated for the day’s training, never mind the game, and this is our bread and butter. We’ve talked a lot, and now it’s time to deliver.”
Aware that the Six Nations window offers further momentum, Tait added: “Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, we’re not going to have too many guys away during the Six Nations.
“As a club if we’re talking about this top six target then we have to be in the mix with the big boys, and this next four-week block is going to be massive in terms of that. Some teams are going to have some of their key men away, and we have to capitalise on that. It starts on Friday at Sale Sharks.
“Sale have struggled a bit at times this season compared to previous years, and by their own admission are not where they want to be. That said, they are playing some really good rugby and getting some key men back from injury, so we know they’ll be a strong outfit on Friday. It won’t be an easy task but if we’re going to be where we want to be, these are the kinds of games we need to be winning. It’s a really key game for us.
“They emphasise their driving game a lot, they have some key runners and try-scorers as well, and it’s going to be to-and-fro. It could be a kicking battle at times as both teams try to capitalise on momentum, and it’s about being accurate when we do have opportunities. We have been getting better at that, and Sale v Newcastle games during my own time at the club have always been good contests.
“The little margins make the big difference and we need to be right on the ball, but everyone at the club is looking forward to getting back into our bread and butter. We want to see if we can turn a decent start into a really exciting season.”