Willis keeping grounded ahead of Chiefs clash

Friday 6 October 2017

Craig Willis says Newcastle Falcons aren’t getting carried away with their strong start to the Aviva Premiership season as they prepare for Saturday’s trip to champions Exeter Chiefs.

The 22-year-old starts at fly-half for the third game running after victories against Bath and London Irish, but is remaining grounded ahead of the Sandy Park skirmish.

“Exeter as a team are where we want to be, and the way they have gone about things since being promoted has been quite remarkable,” said Willis.

“In some ways they’re a model for a lot of Premiership clubs, and going down there will be a real marker of where we really are. We’re going there with the mentality that we’ve got nothing to lose, really looking to take the game to them. We’re in the best place we’ve been for a number of years and there are a lot of reasons to go there with confidence.”

Placed second in the Aviva Premiership table after five rounds of matches, the former Billingham RFC player said: “We’ve started the season well, and as a result people and teams are putting more focus on us.

“That provides its own challenges, and for Exeter they’ll have some wrongs they want to right after losing at Leicester Tigers last weekend. We’ll be expecting a reaction from that and we know they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at us.

“Exeter are a team who keep hold of the ball for long periods of time so we need to manage the game well, work hard at getting the ball back and then use it well when we’re in possession.

“We’re trying not to let any of the outside hype distract us from what we know has been a decent start, but the reality at this stage is we’re less than a quarter of the way through the season. We’re heads-on and just getting on with our jobs rather than looking at league tables, but if we could go into the European fortnight at the top of the Aviva Premiership I don’t think anyone would deny the fact it’s something to get excited about.”

Happy to have earned a run of consecutive starts in the Falcons’ famed No 10 shirt, the former Durham School pupil said: “It has been a nice couple of weeks and I’m grateful to have been given my opportunity.

“Results-wise it has gone pretty well, our last game against London Irish was a bit of a mixed bag but personally I’m pretty happy. As a young 10 this is a perfect place to be at the moment. We’re trying to play rugby, there’s a huge willingness to attack and in most of our games we’ve been on the front foot.”

Attributing their improved run of results to a collective growth, he added: “It’s a nice position to be in and I think the maturity among the players has definitely grown.

“A lot of us were here when the team got relegated, came back up and then consolidated in the Premiership, and when we’re getting towards the end of games now we’re really fighting til the death. We’re more confident as a side and we’re now winning the kinds of games we’d have folded in previously.

“During the week we sit down with the coaches and plan our strategy for the game, but it’s how we then control things during the heat of battle. In any game you’ll be faced with situations you haven’t accounted for in the build-up, and we now have a core of guys who have been around for a while and they know how to grip the group. We have that understanding on the field of how to deal with certain scenarios, and the signings who have come in have also added a lot.”

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