Newcastle Falcons hit the half-way point of their regular season this afternoon in Wales.
TWELVE points clear in the league, maximum points so far in the cup and now even beating entire countries – it seems there is just no stopping Newcastle Falcons this season.
Try telling that to Rory Lawson, though, the Scotland scrum-half for whom 14 wins on the bounce is nowhere near enough.
“The first thing to say is that the year has absolutely flown by, and I can’t believe we are at half-way,” said the 31-year-old, a man for all seasons in his snow-boots and body-warmer.
“We are sat here looking at snow-covered pitches, but for me the summer’s pre-season only seems like a couple of weeks ago.”
Time flies when you’re having fun, so they say, and for the Falcons that has consisted of blowing away their second-tier opponents following last season’s Premiership relegation.
Some might argue it is like shooting fish in a barrel given the drop in opposition levels, but to concur entirely would not do justice to a Newcastle side using the experience to lay firmer foundations for their return to the big time.
“From our point of view we are satisfied enough with where we are, top of the league, unbeaten in the cup and having defeated Tonga last month,” said Lawson, frustrated at his side’s failure to land a four-try bonus point in last week’s 31-15 win over Plymouth.
“With regards to performances we can still make huge improvements, and the most exciting thing is that we know there is much more to come.
“Last week was incredibly frustrating because our whole season is based around being clinical and really effective every game, but we left a lot of tries out there.
“We have learnt from those errors and there are a few frustrated boys knocking about the place, but the good thing with sport is you have the chance to put things right the following weekend.”
This afternoon sees Newcastle taking a breather from their promotion procession to concentrate on the unloved child of the rugby family – the British and Irish Cup.
Facing up against semi-professional opposition in front of three-figure crowds might not get the blood pumping for some, but a business-like mantra is ensuring they remain among the favourites.
Director of rugby Dean Richards has changed more than half of his starting XV, with young pups Scott Wilson and Joel Hodgson among those given a platform to shine.
Lawson said: “I have been really impressed with the depth of Newcastle’s squad and the quality of young players coming through.
“Having that ability to rotate and have a look at guys works wonders for the competition among the squad, and it is clear to me that there is an enormous amount of talent in the North East.
“Seeing them getting the opportunity to show themselves on the senior stage is always enjoyable, and a lot of professional rugby now is so structured that it can be a breath of fresh air to see a young lad coming in with no fear. They just play what they see, and it is a brilliant opportunity.”
Taking nothing for granted despite Newport being expected to suffer a battering this afternoon, he added: “We have got footage on them and have watched a handful of their games, so we have a fair idea what to expect down there.
“They have got a lot of skilful boys, they play with width and tempo, but alongside that we have also spotted a few areas where we might be able to take opportunities against them.”
Hoping for more temperate conditions, Lawson’s preparations have at least not been disrupted thanks to some careful planning from Richards and his lieutenants.
“To be fair to our coaches, it looks like they have scheduled the week with the forecasts in mind, so when the worst of the snow came down on Wednesday we were sat at home on our day off,” the half-back revealed.
“The bulk of our week was front-loaded, but we were in again yesterday and just preparing as normal with no real disruption. We have a synthetic pitch at Druid Park which we use, and it has been business as usual.
“The boys keep saying to me that with being a Scot I must be used to the cold and the snow, and while that is probably fair comment it doesn’t mean I like it!
“From what we have seen on the forecast the conditions down in Newport look to be a bit better than we have had up here, and hopefully that will prove to be the case.
“From a scrum-half’s point of view the biggest thing is how it affects the ball.
“If you roll a rugby ball in the snow it comes out looking like the body of a snow-man, and you might need the old orange ball like they used to use in the football.
“On the whole, though, the conditions are fine, and we as players are used to adapting to them.”