Head coach Dave Walder believes his Newcastle Falcons squad are well equipped to deal with the St James’ Park factor as they prepare to play at the home of Newcastle United on Saturday March 23.
More than 20,000 tickets have already been sold for the Gallagher Premiership clash against northern rivals Sale Sharks, with the 5.30pm kick-off billed as ‘The Big One.’
The game is the second time the Falcons have graced St James’ Park, having beaten Northampton Saints 25-22 there last season in front of a club record crowd of 30,174, Walder insisting his players will be better prepared for having gone through that experience.
“Most of the lads are comfortable with it now because they were around last season, and some of the boys who’ve come in since then will be used to playing in front of big crowds from their international rugby,” said the former England fly-half, a Premiership and European Cup winner during his playing days.
“For one or two it’ll be their first experience of an event like this, but the bulk of our squad will benefit from having last year under their belt in terms of how to handle the whole occasion. It’s something you’ve got to embrace, and they see it is a great opportunity.”
Looking back on last year’s St James’ Park clash in which Vereniki Goneva scored the Falcons’ only try, Newcastle United fan Walder admitted: “It probably wasn’t a classic, truth be told, but in my mind it will always be a brilliant game because we won.
“Niki Goneva doing the Alan Shearer try celebration was an iconic moment which people will rightly remember, and it was just great to be part of.”
Looking for a repeat of that result when Sale Sharks come to town, he added: “As a head coach I think your memory of any game is dependant almost entirely on the result, so any game we’ve won is special.
“With it being at St James’ Park, for a huge Newcastle United fan like myself, definitely adds a little extra, and hopefully we can put together the same outcome next Saturday against a very physical Sale Sharks side.”
Tickets for The Big One are available by clicking here.