Craig Willis is ready to seize his first team chance on Friday night when Newcastle Falcons travel to Welsh side Ospreys in the opening game of the European Challenge Cup.
The Teesside native caught the eye at the back end of last season but has had to bide his time for a start this term, Willis admitting: “It has been tough, to be honest. I came off last season on a bit of a high and have not yet had my opportunities this time round, but it is one of those things where you just have to remain patient. You can’t let your head drop, your morale drop, or else everything just goes to pot.
“It has been difficult, yes, but I have an opportunity this week and I just have to take it. Even in games you’re not involved in you need to watch them, make yourself aware what plays are being run, get yourself clued in so that when you’re called upon you can just slot in.”
Willis will form part of a side expected to show a host of changes from the one which has climbed into the top half of the Aviva Premiership, the former Durham School pupil having shone for the Falcons’ second string during a confident start to the Aviva A-League.
He said: “A couple of boys are in the same position as me in terms of this being their first involvement for the first team this season.
“These sort of games are what the boys want, because it is Premiership-standard opposition. We want to show the coaches by going and putting in a good performance, and the tougher the opposition the better. We have a good, deep squad to cope with challenges like this.
“We know that individuals want to go out and stake their claim for the first team, but the way that happens is through a good team performance. That is what the coaches are looking for, what we want from each other, and the team will benefit by us putting in a big collective effort.”
Keen to play an attacking style but aware of the need to assess the bigger picture, Willis said: “We need to play when it is the right time to play. We also need to exit and play in the right areas of the field as well, which is massive in games like this when we are away from home in front of what will probably be a pretty hostile environment.
“We want to be in the right parts of the field, but if the right thing to do at any given moment is to run it from our half then it’s all about playing heads-up rugby. Because of the nature of the squad we’ve got we have a fairly mobile, ball-playing team. We will be looking to play as much as we can, but if we need to just put it in their half that is what we’ll do.
“We know that first and foremost the Ospreys have got a pretty big pack. They will come at us hard, they have got two handy fly-halves and they can shift the ball when they get on the front foot to challenge us out wide. On the flip side we know defensively they are not going to bring us as much heat as we get sometimes in the Premiership. We can afford to shift the ball around as long as we look after it in contact, and our attack needs to be equally as good as theirs.”