As a chemistry student Alex Tait is accustomed to finding the right formula, and Newcastle Falcons’ full-back believes simplicity is the best option at London Wasps tomorrow.
The 26-year-old was sat in the stands when the Falcons visited Adams Park two years ago, a bittersweet afternoon seeing them winning their ‘relegation decider’ but not by enough points to avoid dropping down to the Championship.
Bouncing back at the first attempt but finding league victories impossible to come by in the last six months, a simplified game-plan at least delivered a losing bonus point against league leaders Saracens last time out.
That was very much the hallmark of their survival mission two years ago when Gary Gold’s back-to-basics brand almost kept them afloat, Tait recalling: “What we brought down at Wasps that day was Gary’s game-plan, which was simple but very effective.
“We put them under pressure, we had a bit of belief and there are similar signs from what we did at home to Saracens a fortnight ago.
“We have simplified things, players have had a bit more onus and people seem to be believing in it.”
Finding little joy in defeat despite signs of life in their play, he added: “Saracens was a good performance and we played some decent rugby, but we still lost the game and we can’t pretend otherwise.
“Personally I want to be winning rather than talking about playing well in a defeat, but of course you have to take the positives as well as looking at all the areas where you can improve.
“It was a lot more exciting, for a start. We cut them open a few times and gave them some problems.
“Moving forward to next year, we need to be winning games like that.”
Whether or not next season will be in the top flight should become clearer tomorrow.
Three points at Wasps would be enough to confirm their Premiership status and consign Worcester to the second tier. Should the Warriors fail to win at Saracens tomorrow Newcastle will stay up regardless, not that Tait is taking anything for granted.
“It would be a good position to be in, knowing we are safe, but you can’t rely on other teams doing it for you,” he said, having seen more than his fair share of relegation battles in seven seasons and over 100 senior appearances for the club.
“We saw during our own relegation season what can happen when teams are down there, like us going to Gloucester and winning for the first time in 15 years.
“I have seen plenty of things like that, and until it is mathematically impossible for us to go down then I am still thinking there is work to be done.”
Determined to keep Newcastle’s fate in their own hands while they enjoy an eight-point buffer at the bottom of the table, he added: “We want to sort it out ourselves, and I don’t like relying on ther teams to help us out.
“Obviously it is going to be very difficult for Worcester down at Saracens given what they did to Clermont last weekend in the Heineken Cup semi-finals and the fact they have gone so well in the Premiership all season.
“But London Irish have won there when nobody gave them a chance and that has proven it can be done.
“When we were in that position two years ago we fought for everything we could, and Worcester will be doing exactly that.
“They will be building themselves up for two massive games, and I am not writing anyone off yet.
“I know when we were desperate we were pulling results out from everywhere, but if we take care of our own business then it doesn’t matter what they do.”
At a time of the season often beset by dead-rubbers there is still plenty to play for in High Wycombe, Wasps having the carrot of a seventh-placed finish which would see them scraping into the newly-formed Rugby Champions Cup for next season, which replaces the Heineken Cup.
To do that they need to end the Premiership campaign in seventh and defeat their French equivalents in a play-off, Tait thinking shorter term in assessing Dai Young’s side, who were 17-12 winners at Kingston Park in December.
“Wasps’ defence and back-row probably took us by surprise a little bit, with the choke-tackling they were doing,” said Tait.
“It took us until the second half to work out how we needed to play against it, and we know we have to be physically up for it to have a chance of coming back with anything.
“In attack Wasps have got massive threats across the board, not just with their back-row ball-carriers but also with their speed and elusive running. Andy Goode has been there and done it, he knows the score and he will be trying to direct them around the field from fly-half.
“They have got threats everywhere, and we know that. We will go into it with a simple game-plan, look to implement it effectively and bring out some of the stuff we showed against Saracens.
“There are two more games, we want to be safe and everyone just wants those wins on the board.”