Craig Willis says he and his Newcastle Falcons team-mates are determined to end the Aviva Premiership season on a high by beating Sale Sharks at Kingston Park on Saturday.
The homegrown fly-half kicked a pair of touchline conversions and laid on Marcus Watson’s second try in Sunday’s 23-14 loss at league leaders Saracens, on a day when defeat for London Irish guaranteed Newcastle’s top-flight status.
Willis, whose side drew 15-15 at Sale when the two sides met in November, said: “The Sale game is a massive chance to end the season on a positive note.
“We know we are mathematically safe now and we want to go out in front of our home fans and make a statement. Our first half at Saracens showed what we are capable of, and we feel like we owe Sale one after the drawn game we had over there in the autumn.”
Willis was one of 10 former academy players in Sunday’s starting XV as Newcastle opted for a squad containing 22 English-qualified players, the Teessider kicking two from two on the day and impressing in general play.
He said: “Dean Richards and Semore Kurdi have stated repeatedly they want Newcastle Falcons to be a club based predominantly on the academy lads, and we are all buying into that.
“Having two thirds of the starting XV coming through the academy is a statement in itself, and on top of that the fact we are such a tight group.”
Building a 14-3 half-time but shipping three second-half tries, Willis said: “It was a tough one to take given the position we had got ourselves into. Maybe we tried to play too much around half-way in that second half we didn’t help ourselves at times but overall it was a good effort from the boys.
“We came here with an intent not to show any fear. That was clear from the very first meeting of the week on Monday morning when it was made extremely plain that we were going to just chuck everything at them. We did that really well during the first half, we fell away a bit after that but we did a lot of good things.
“It was a physical game, as we knew it would be. It tightened up a bit after half-time and we were doing a lot of defending, there were a few scuffles and both sides put plenty into it.”
Insisting matters at the Madejski Stadium were no distraction as London Irish’s defeat confirmed the Falcons’ top-flight status, Willis said: “I was actually off the field for the last 15 minutes so I was aware of the London Irish score, but the lads who were still playing weren’t. It didn’t affect us because all we were thinking about was trying to get some points.
“We didn’t start the season very well but we can take heart from some of the progress we have made since Christmas. We know we can take on the so-called big teams, it is largely a case of having the belief and when we stick to what we know we can do we are a dangerous side.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 3.30pm kick-off against Sale Sharks are available by calling 0871 226 6060 or by CLICKING HERE . Any supporter purchasing an adult or concession ticket qualifies for two free under-11s tickets.