Despite the sense of optimism which accompanies the dawn of a new year, having watched Newcastle Falcons against Brive on Thursday night it is not difficult to see why they are where they are.
But for the continued struggles of Worcester Warriors at the foot of the Premiership the club would be staring down the barrel of another serious battle for survival.
I tuned into the Brive game wanting to see the home side compete and, taking the positives from the match, the forwards managed to do that for the most part.
Scott MacLeod in the line-out seems to be carrying on the form he showed last season, and deserves a lot of credit for the way he is performing. I also like Kieran Brookes at tight-head. He is obviously an important player to them judging by the amount of strapping he had on, and they had patched him up to the nth degree to keep him going.
In the the back-row I was impressed by the contribution of Mark Wilson when he came on from the bench and managed to get them over the gain-line. His incursion almost produced a try in the left corner, but the way in which the Falcons played overall was indicative of a side lacking in confidence.
The team got off to a good start. All the possession and positional play was positive, but they just couldn’t do anything with it.
When Joel Hodgson missed his two kicks at goal (admittedly difficult kicks, on a poor pitch, which didn’t miss by much) you could see shoulders sagging a little. By contrast, Brive became more assured and confident as the game wore on.
The Falcons tried to take things through the midfield via big James Fitzpatrick, who is a tidy player and a physical specimen, but too often it was from behind the gain-line.
That makes it difficult to develop an offloading game which is the key to success in the modern game, and to my mind is a major factor in the Falcons’ current inability to score more tries.
On the couple of occasions they managed to get themselves beyond the gain-line they looked like a different team, but they simply have to create those moments on a much more regular and consistent basis.
Holding on to possession is one thing, but they were not getting over the gain-line often enough or quickly enough. They looked like they wanted to offload, but until the ball-carrier gets in front of his support runners it is very difficult to play that game.
All that tends to happen in that instance is that players stick the ball up their jumpers, and defences know exactly what is going to happen.
You could see the lads getting desperate, and you cannot say they lacked effort or indeed endeavour.
They are obviously trying their socks off, but that little bit of extra spark is missing. Thursday’s result demonstrates the huge importance to a team of a successful goal kicker.
This is not a criticism of Joel Hodgson, because I believe he is a rare talent as a player. He will come through and be an influential figure at some stage, but a lad like that needs quality around him. Regretfully, there is not enough of that in the squad.
I do not mean to denigrate the Falcons players individually or collectively because they are doing the best job they can, and they have got to keep believing and really concentrating on the basics.
Part of that would be making sure they stay in the right areas of the field for as long as possible, and they have got a half-decent line-out so they should have no worries about kicking for position rather than trying to run it from their own 22.