Newcastle Falcons back-rower Mark Wilson says his side have no pressure on them as they embark on their first ever Aviva Premiership semi-final at Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
The pundits and the betting offices have all but written off the chances of the North East side as they battle for the right to face Saracens or Wasps at Twickenham a week on Saturday, Wilson insisting their underdog status gives them the perfect cover from which to spring yet another surprise result.
Not that it would be too much of a shock, the Falcons having beaten Exeter 28-20 the last time the two teams met in league action back in January at Kingston Park Stadium.
Wilson said: “We beat Exeter the last time we played them in the Premiership and we got a four-try bonus point there in the away leg. We had a close game with them in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final in March, and as much as we’re being written off by everyone there’s not really much between us.
“It’s good from our side because all the pressure is on Exeter. People are expecting them to win, we’re billed as clear underdogs but they’ll have a bit of doubt in their minds because they know what we can do.”
Enjoying a fortnight to prepare after their best league finish in 20 years, Wilson said: “The way that everyone has trained these past two weeks has been superb.
“I’ve been here in previous years when we’ve had dead rubbers three games from the end of the season and people have maybe subconsciously switched off into holiday mode, but there has been none of that. Our preparation over this past fortnight has been the best it has been all year, and we’re in a great place going into the game.
“We’re confident in what we’re doing, we’ve got full faith in the coaches, analysts, S&C, medical staff and everything that goes into preparing a team at the elite level. The club is in a great place right now, we know we’re in good hands and everyone is mucking in doing their jobs properly. That’s the biggest thing, and I’d say it’s excitement rather than nerves which is the predominant feeling in the squad.”
In the week he was recalled up by England for their summer tour to South Africa, the Cumbrian said: “I’m absolutely delighted with that, of course.
“With being injured for a while I thought I’d perhaps slipped off the radar, so to be called back up is great news. I’m just excited to get back out there and hopefully play a part, but I won’t even start thinking about that until after the end of Newcastle Falcons’ season.
“That’s my main focus for now, and the good thing is I’ve had no time to really think about it because I’ve got two kids at home under the age of three! They keep me pretty busy, to be fair, and it’s great because it means I don’t have the time to stress out about things or reflect on things like England call-ups or Premiership semi-finals.”
Relishing the prospect of a lung-busting shift at Sandy Park, Wilson added: “When you play at the top teams you’ve got to be on it from the first til the last minute, and that’s an absolute given.
“Against quality sides you can’t afford to have little patches where you switch off, and that has been a big focus for us during our preparation. We’ve scored a few late winners this season which have dug us out of some holes, but Exeter have done the same. It just goes to show you can’t stop playing for one second against teams at this level, but we’ve won most of our tight games.
“I just can’t look past the feeling of excitement among the group at the moment, and when I look down our team sheet I see quality in every position. Not just quality but a willingness to battle for each other, and I wouldn’t want to be in any other team.”