Falcons not burying their heads in the sand
January 1, 2009
The Falcons' Rory Clegg shows his disappointment following his side's draw with Worcester on their last Premiership outing © Getty Images
Newcastle boss Steve Bates is determined to get the Falcons flying up the table in 2009 - starting with this weekend's clash with London Irish.
Bates' side are currently languishing second from bottom in the Premiership table with just two wins to their name as they prepare for the trip to the high-flying Exiles on Saturday.
Choosing to look up rather than down despite repeated media talk of relegation, Bates said, "Naturally we're disappointed with where we are in the league in eleventh place, but we feel as if we are progressing as a team and will continue to be positive about ourselves in the new year. If you constantly talk about 'survival' then all you do is increase the pressure on the players.
"Under enormous pressure like that, past experience has shown that many players don't perform at their focused best, so what we're doing is just aiming to progress this team forward. We need to concentrate on performance on a week-by-week basis, work hard to play well in the next game, and if we do that effectively then the results will follow.
"We still have a considerable way to go as a team, and whilst are admittedly far too inconsistent, over the past few weeks we have started to see some of things we have worked on starting to bear fruit. The boys are fighting hard, the team spirit is outstanding and everyone is completely focused on getting up that table.
"We're not burying our heads in the sand, we know where we are in the league and what the stakes are, but we're less than halfway through the season and we know there is better to come from this team if we stay positive and keep building our game. People on the outside might choose to keep talking about relegation, but that's up to them. We'll just get on with trying to win games."
Looking to the game itself against the second-placed high-flyers, he added, "We know London Irish are an excellent team and that we need to play well down there, but I have belief in my players and I know we can build on what was a good performance, if not result, against Worcester last weekend.
"Irish have an excellent coach in Toby Booth whom I know well from the Saxons tour, and a good bunch of players who have been allowed time to mature together over a number of seasons. They will still be very confident even despite losing last weekend, but we have good players capable of going there and upsetting them."
The director of rugby will wait until Friday morning to name his side as he awaits fitness updates on a number of players, stating: "The injury list at the moment is pretty extensive. Even though we now have Carl Hayman back fully fit we are still without some senior guys who would have expected to play a lot of rugby, like Joe McDonnell, Andy Long, Ross Beattie, Jonny Wilkinson, Hall Charlton, Andy Buist and Russell Winter to name just a few.
"We're starting to get some bodies back, but it's important to manage that properly when guys like Micky Young are playing with a sore hamstring as he did against Worcester. Micky played a good hour last weekend but in the end we had to take him off to avoid the injury worsening, and then we have people like Danny Williams and Alex Tait on the way back from knocks and ready to start playing parts of games again."
Having seen a barnstorming return for fit-again All Black Hayman in Saturday's 16-16 draw with Worcester, Bates took time to highlight the depth of talent in that area with England Saxon Davey Wilson also excelling.
"Carl is a world class player, and as well as his obvious impact through his own performance you can also see the lift he gives to the players around him with his experience and influence," said Bates. "But we also have a player in Davey Wilson who I believe is an international class tight head, so it's important to engineer a situation where both players are getting the amount of rugby which is right for both them and the team. Both were missing when we played London Irish at home, but both are fully fit this weekend which gives us plenty of options in that area."
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
John Griffiths takes an analytical look at Week 3 of ESPN Scrum's Fantasy Rugby game - who should you have picked?
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin