Only the most hardened of optimists is giving Newcastle Falcons a prayer of making the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals but, while the mathematical chance still exists, they will keep on scrapping.
Tonight’s visit of Bucharest Wolves brings the Pool C campaign to a climax, French club Brive in pole position to waltz through after beating the Falcons a week ago.
Even if Newcastle take all five points from this evening’s encounter with Romanian opposition, Brive need only two points from the visit of winless Italian part-timers Calvisano to to wrap things up.
The two drew earlier in the competition, but even a repeat of that would be enough to eliminate the Falcons.
Newcastle’s management are worldly-wise enough to know their fate, but nonetheless are seeking to use tonight’s match to re-tune an engine which has spluttered of late.
Beaten 9-7 by Brive last week in an instantly forgettable 80 minutes, they sit second-bottom of the Premiership and without a league win since October.
“We know we are relying on favours elsewhere and we are realistic about how likely that is, but all we can do is win our game and give ourselves a chance,” said head coach Peter Russell.
“We need to put in place what we have set out during the week, and the result will come. That is the biggest factor for us, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen in Brive.”
Joel Hodgson, handed a rare start at fly-half last week, misses out with concussion, as does Scottish scrum-half Mike Blair.
Flying wing Zach Kibirige is spared the virtual dead-rubber after a week-long training camp with England Under-20s, Noah Cato taking his place in a side showing eight changes.
Rory Clegg takes Hodgson’s place in the pivot position, Russell stating: “Cleggy brings an air of freshness to the side.
“He has had a couple of work-ons over the past few weeks, which he has taken on board, and it is a three-game scenario for him and the rest of the boys before we get back into the Premiership.
“We want to play a high-tempo game, but it needs to be one where we look after the ball.
“When we played Bucharest over there earlier in the season they were very tenacious around that area. It is not just about crowd-pleasing, it is about making sure we do our jobs upfront. That is where everything starts from.”
Kingston Park’s pitch has spent the week under an inflatable dome, with hot-air blowers generating a temperature around the 50-degree mark in a bid to dry out a surface which cut up badly last week. “We have been fortunate enough to train on Northumbria University’s pitches at Bullocksteads during the week, and we are extremely grateful to them for allowing us to do that,” said Russell.
“Bucharest will be coming here to finish their season on a high.
“They are a tenacious side with big, rumbling forwards. They never give up, as they showed in the game over there (a one-point away win), and if we give them a sniff they can go for it.
“They have got a lot of international experience in their squad, and you have got to respect them for that.”
With a small attendance expected to turn up for a game scheduled on a Thursday due to Brive being on French TV, Russell added: “It doesn’t matter what crowd we get, in terms of how the players aim to perform tonight.
“Whatever numbers turn up the boys on the pitch will want to do it for them, and the supporters who do make the game I am sure will get behind us, as they do every single time we play.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: N Cato, T Catterick, A Crockett, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland, R Clegg, C Pilgrim; R Vickers, G McGuigan, O Tomaszczyk, F McKenzie, S MacLeod, M Wilson, A Saull, C York. Replacements: S Lawson, J Hallam, S Wilson, S Tomes, W Welch, W Fury, P Godman, A Powell.
BUCHAREST WOLVES: T Conache, F Ionita, P Kinikinilau, F Vlaicu, I Dumitru, V Calafeteanu, F Surugiu; P Tamba, E Capatana, V Balaliscescu, A Bucurescu, V Popirlan, V Lucaci, A Mitu, S Burcea (captain). Replacements: F Bardasu, C Pristavita, A Tarus, A Ion, D Ianus, C Caplescu, M Wiringi, C Gal.
Referee: N Paterson (Scotland). Kick-off: 7.30pm.