Alex Tait admits Newcastle Falcons have noticed a jump in standards after returning to the Aviva Premiership, but insists the RFU Championship winners are gradually coming to terms with it.
Playing last season against mainly semi-professional opposition and winning their regular season by 24 points with just a single defeat, the Falcons began life back in the Premiership with a 21-0 home loss to Bath.
Making amends and showing improvements in Friday’s 15-14 victory at northern rivals Sale, Tait said: “The Premiership is another level altogether. As we saw at Sale, teams go for the full 80 minutes.
“The Championship was very hard and there are some good teams there, so I mean no disrespect, but some sides we played tended to fall away after the 60-minute mark. You can’t let your guard down for a single second in the Premiership though, especially with the intelligence of the players in knowing how to exploit any little slip.”
Having been restricted to five penalties at the Salford City Stadium three days ago, the full-back said: “The defensive organisation of teams in the Premiership is a heck of a lot tighter, and it is so much harder to find the kind of spaces that we were seeing regularly last season.
“When those gaps present themselves they close a lot quicker, so it has been a big jump getting back to that standard after a year away from it.”
Glad to have come through a nail-biter, which saw his side absorbing waves of late pressure, Tait added: “Our defence was superb near the end, going from our own 22 back to their 22, and it typified our whole attitude.
“One mistake and we would have conceded a penalty that would have lost us the game, but the discipline and defence during that final ten minutes was just outstanding.
“Our attitude was what got us through. It was so pleasing, because we had been talking about it all week. Our attitude probably wasn’t where it was meant to be against Bath the week before, and it is something we knew we needed to improve on against Sale.
“The Sharks had shown against Gloucester how to go to an away ground and do it, so we were really taking a leaf out of their book. I think it showed.” With Phil Godman stroking over four penalties in a productive hour, the Scot then made way for Tait’s former Barnard Castle School team-mate Rory Clegg to drill home the winner 12 minutes from time after returning to the club.
Blessed with a wealth of options in the No 10 department, which also includes Joel Hodgson, Tait said: “All of our fly-halves bring different things to the table, really. Obviously I have played in the same side as Cleggy plenty of times before, and you know what you are going to get from him.
“He has fantastic distribution, he has added more of a kicking game to his repertoire and he has definitely matured since he left Newcastle the first time round. That time away has allowed him to develop a steady head, and I thought he did very well when he came on for Phil, who himself had been really good.”
Just delighted to have got things moving at Sale, he added: “Those tight games are the ones that can define your season, and you could see on the final whistle how much of a boost it was.
“After losing so heavily at home to Bath we were obviously disappointed, but an away win in the Premiership is an ideal way to come back from that.
“It was a second start to our season, in a way, and it is a great feeling to have things really moving now.”