Mike Blair backs Newcastle Falcons to bounce back at Sale Sharks

Scottish scrum-half Mike Blair says Newcastle Falcons' heads have cleared from their opening-day hangover

David Rogers/Getty Images Newcastle Falcons star Mike Blair
Newcastle Falcons star Mike Blair

Mike Blair is showing precisely kind of steady head one would expect from an 85-times-capped international - the Scot insisting Newcastle Falcons are not about to hit panic mode.

Beaten 21-0 by Bath in last week’s Premiership opener and travelling to northern rivals Sale Sharks this evening, the scrum-half is well aware that a season is not decided in September.

“Training has been great and, while there was that initial hangover after the Bath game, it was put to bed quite quickly,” said the former Brive and Edinburgh man.

“It is behind us now, and we are going to learn the lessons.

“After what happened against Bath we need to be focusing on what we are doing, rather than the opposition.

“Obviously within that we will have a look at Sale and take what we can from our analysis of them, but ultimately because things didn’t click for us last week, the emphasis is on how we will look to dominate the play.”

Blair forms part of a Newcastle side showing four changes from the one which started last weekend, notably at open-side flanker, where captain Will Welch returns from injury in place of Andy Saull.

Former Shark Fraser McKenzie starts against his old club, while Oliver Tomaszczyk (rib) and Matt Thompson (illness) both return to the front-row.

Up against a Sharks side who were the surprise winners of week one, beating Gloucester 22-16, Blair said: “They are going to be buoyed by a result like that, and they thoroughly deserved it.

“Gloucester did not have the best day at the office in making a number of mistakes which Sale capitalised on, and if you look at their squad they do have strength there.”

With the Salford-based side having been tipped by many to struggle again this term, Blair added: “Looking at last season I am sure Sale would admit they under-performed, but from our point of view at this stage of the campaign we are not targeting games in saying these are the ones we need to win to survive.

“It is a long old season and it may be that there are three or four teams we need to look out for, but two weeks in is too early to be framing it in those kind of terms.”

Looking to the main decision-making positions despite Danny Cipriani being again left out, he said: “Sale have got a couple of key players in the half-backs, in Dwayne Peel and Nick MacLeod.

“I guess it is pretty standard in a team that you look to your nine and ten to organise things for you.

“Peel will mix things up, whereas MacLeod plays a straighter bat. He is quite controlled in what he does, he plays the field position, doesn’t make many mistakes and provides a steady presence for them.

“Those guys will be key, and in the back-row they have two out-and-out open-sides in Dan Braid and Dave Seymour. They are a real threat at the breakdown, and we need to be wary of that.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle’s Tongan centre Tane Tu’ipulotu has spoken of his devastation at having to retire from rugby, due to knee problems. The 32-year-old rejoined the Falcons last year for a second spell at the club, helping them to the RFU Championship title.

Tu’ipulotu said: “It is a painfully tough decision for me to make, to stop doing something that I’ve always loved since a young lad growing up in Tonga.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the coaches, staff and fans for supporting me throughout my career, and to all my fellow team-mates, both past and present. It has been an honour to share my playing experience with them all.”

NEWCASTLE FALCONS: A Tait, N Cato, D Barnes, A Powell, T Catterick, P Godman, M Blair; F Montanella, M Thompson, O Tomaszczyk, F McKenzie, S MacLeod, D Barrow, W Welch (captain), A Hogg. Replacements: R Vickers, K Brookes, S Wilson, C del Fava, M Wilson, W Fury, R Clegg, J Fitzpatrick.

SALE SHARKS: T Arscott, P Mackenzie, M Cueto, A Forsyth, T Brady, N Macleod, D Peel; E Lewis Roberts, M Jones, H Thomas, J Mills, M Paterson, D Braid (aptain), D Seymour, J Gaskell. Replacements: T Taylor, R Harrison, V Cobilas, K Kulemin, J Beaumont, W Cliff, J Ford, R Miller.

Referee: L Pearce

Kick-off: 8pm

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer