Despite sweeping the board at Newcastle Falcons’ end-of-season awards, full-back Alex Tait says the club has some serious improving to do by the time the new Premiership season kicks off.
The 26-year-old started all but one of his side’s 22 Aviva Premiership games as they retained top-flight status following last year’s promotion, winning both the Players’ Player of the Season and the Ken Lockerbie Trophy for consistency at last week’s annual dinner.
The former England Under-20s cap has made the No 15 shirt his own with a much-improved showing, but admitted “it has been a bit of a slog” after 16 successive defeats in the league.
Having beaten Sale Sharks, Worcester Warriors and London Irish during the first two months of the campaign Newcastle faded away for the middle third, finishing with a barrage of bonus points despite victory proving beyond them.
“We had a fairly decent start from where we wanted to be, but unfortunately have not been able to get a win for quite a while,” said the former Barnard Castle School pupil.
“That has been difficult, but some of the games have been very tight and, had we got the rub of the green, we might have fallen on the right side of the result.”
Recording their lowest ever Premiership points tally under the current scoring system, the Falcons even ended with 10 less than they had during their 2012 relegation season.
Glad of the chance to improve as a top-flight entity without having to go through the mill of another year in the Championship, Tait said: “We have got to be really excited about getting wins on the board, and make it look fairly respectable from where we are at the moment.
“During the season we have had patches where we have looked good and felt we were improving, but have come up with a performanceafterwards which is not up to the standard.”
To Tait’s credit is the fact he has managed to maintain such high personal standards in a team consistently struggling for form, although the plethora of top full-backs in the Premiership has meant international recognition has passed him by for the time being.
Harlequins’ Mike Brown was last week named Premiership Player of the Season, Northampton’s Ben Foden now back to full fitness and Worcester’s Chris Pennell emerging with widespread praise despite his Warriors side having been relegated.
Then there is Leicester’s Mathew Tait, not that younger brother Alex is rushing to highlight his sibling’s exploits. He joked: “I am not going to give Mathew any credit – no chance!
“I think Pennell has been fantastic all year, if you’re talking about the best full-backs.
“He has been unbelievable in the air, and he is a good strong runner.
“You also have to consider what it is like to be playing in a team that has been struggling, and it is not easy in that situation to shining like he has. I have a lot of respect for that.
“Mike Brown has been outstanding, and I really admire his consistency.
“He seems to have got a massive bit of pace from somewhere, and he has been the stand-out performer.”
A student of the game but not a compulsive rugby-watcher during his down-time as he heads for a summer break, Tait added: “I do like my switch-off time when I am not playing, and I think that is me.
“But I do look at a lot of full-backs to try and pick things up, because you always want to learn from guys who are excelling.
“That is not just at other clubs, but also here at Newcastle. Noah Cato’s little in-and-outs, I try to pick that up, and you are always learning.”