Alex Tait believes the spirit of 2009 can give Newcastle Falcons the ammunition they need to spring an upset at Northampton this afternoon.
Just as they did four years ago, the Falcons travel to Franklin’s Gardens as rank outsiders as English club rugby returns to the bread and butter of the Aviva Premiership after a fortnight’s flirtation with the LV= Cup.
Boasting a 50-50 record in the Anglo-Welsh competition and three wins from seven in the league, few outside of Kingston Park are giving the ninth-placed side a prayer of toppling a Saints side bolstered by the return of England trio Lee Dickson, Courtney Lawes and Ben Foden.
But Tait, drawing his own personal inspiration from a 19-13 win which saw Tom May, Jonny Golding and Danny Williams all scoring, said: “We will not be the only team to have struggled at Northampton, although we have won there once in the last few years.
“It was a strange game in that we totally dominated the first 20 minutes and spent the next hour hanging on, but we got the result and it is not an impossible feat. We have experienced that ability to go down there against the odds and get a result, and you have got to feed off that.
“You need hope that it is not an impossible task, and Northampton’s players are flesh and blood just like us.
“If we play in the right areas and take our opportunities then we have a chance.”
Playing full-back that day, the Barnard Castle School graduate wears the same number today against a Saints side containing fellow alumni Calum Clark and Dickson, the England scrum-half who was also a team-mate at Newcastle.
“Going to places like Northampton is why we want to be in the Premiership,” said Tait, instrumental in the club’s return to the top flight after a year in the Championship.
“Showing ourselves in a good light in the top domestic league is incredibly important to us, and if we can get results at places like Franklin’s Gardens it means a lot.”
Director of rugby Dean Richards has freshened up his side from the one beaten 20-3 at Gloucester last Saturday, Phil Godman and Mike Blair forming an all-Scottish half-back pairing as Rory Clegg and Warren Fury drop down to the bench.
Fellow Scots Fraser McKenzie and Scott Lawson come into the side at lock and hooker respectively, winger Noah Cato thrown in against his former club.
Looking to learn the lessons from last week’s two-try loss, Tait said: “Gloucester were better with the ball when they had it, and we didn’t respect possession.
“That meant we weren’t able to exert pressure in their half, and ultimately that led to us not scoring.
“It was a disappointing game, but Northampton is a great chance to put that right and the Premiership is the bread and butter.
“We have got to put Gloucester behind us, having understood why we let ourselves down against them.”
Hopeful he can play a part in an under-performing Newcastle attack and improve on their ninth-placing in the table, he added: “As a group we are slightly disappointed with our league position. We let the home game with Gloucester slip away, which was definitely winnable, but apart from that I think we are reasonably satisfied with certain aspects.
“Our try-tally does not make fantastic reading, but there are other aspects where we are relatively positive.
“If we can bring everything up to par we will be competitive in this division.” Given an extended run at full-back in the league despite the presence of Tom Catterick in the squad, Tait’s growth into a senior player has been one of the more notable features of a campaign in which he has been to the fore.
Solid under the bomb and kicking tactically for territory, he said: “I am always looking for something to moan about, but I am relatively happy with how it has gone for me this season.
“Dean and his coaching team seem to have confidence in me, and hopefully I am repaying them a little bit for that.
“Obviously there are aspects I need to work on which I am trying to do, and I want to have an impact on this improvement we are trying to bring to our attack.”
Expanding on his theme, Tait added: “Moving the ball into space a bit quicker is the big thing, and for the guys in the back-line that means communicating the fact that there are opportunities out wide.
“We need to do that earlier and more clearly so the guys on the inside know to whip it out, and for all that it is frustrating not to get the ball we know we need to be doing more to make it come our way.
“Fly-halves and forwards have got a lot to deal with anyway, so we can make their life easier by being the eyes of the attack and giving clear signals.”
As part of the generation inspired to love the game by England winning the Rugby World Cup almost 10 years ago to the day, despite his dual-Scottish qualification he admits he was cheering when the red-rose brigade hoisted aloft the Webb Ellis Cup.
Tait said: “I was sat at home in the snug, watching it with my auntie and uncle.
“I was cheering for England, although if they were playing Scotland in the final I’m not sure which way I would have went.
“As a kid living in England at the time it was really inspirational, and I can remember following the whole tournament closely.
“It was a fantastic time for rugby, and I think the World Cup coming to Newcastle in 2015 will be brilliant as well for the whole region.
“Hopefully I will be playing well enough for one country to pick me up, but if not I will be buying my ticket and watching it like everybody else.”