Newcastle Falcons’ season is coming to a head now – last weekend’s results putting them in a strong position to retain their Premiership status ahead of Sunday’s visit of Worcester.
One could not help but feel a tinge of sympathy when watching Worcester against London Wasps last Friday, losing with the final play of the night in a result which now gives them a mountain to climb at 12 points behind the Falcons.
The Warriors were playing well, and Wasps seemed out of sorts.
It appeared Worcester had done enough to secure what would have been a vital win in their bid to climb out of the league’s one relegation spot.
Wasps realised the embarrassment of how they were playing and pulled their socks up for one last go.
They applied some late pressure when Worcester had done everything right, and the shot of Dean Ryan turning away in Worcester’s cubby-hole when they conceded the decisive try just summed it up.
He must have been thinking ‘oh my God, here we go again’, and it is at times like that you realise what a cruel game this can be.
You can understand why people get so stressed in circumstances like those, but from Newcastle’s perspective it was a great result which virtually cemented the fact they are going to be present in the top flight competition next year.
They can now begin making plans accordingly for that, fingers crossed, although it looked as if things might be going badly for the Falcons at one stage down at Gloucester on Saturday.
Despite trailing by 30 points they recovered magnificently to score some tries, and in doing so secured a valuable pair of bonus points.
Young Joel Hodgson came up with the goods at the critical time by kicking the touchline conversion to record the second of those, and it seems a pity the club could be losing a local player of obvious potential if his ongoing contractual situation remains unresolved beyond the summer.
Mathematically, of course, the job is not yet done for the Falcons, and it sets it up nicely for Sunday’s visit of Worcester to Kingston Park.
Over the past couple of weeks the Warriors have looked like a side capable of winning, and they have got lots of power and pace in their ranks.
I was impressed by their line-out against a Wasps side with someone like Joe Launchbury in it, and that was one of the reason Wasps were made to struggle a little bit.
It will be important that Newcastle are right on top of their own game, and they must have a degree of confidence now after finally scoring some tries in decent numbers at Gloucester.
They got plenty of points on the board, which is encouraging, and they are on their own pitch.
If they win that will surely be the end of it, even with four games left to come, and they have just got to prepare as they would do for any other game.
Judging by the comments coming out from the camp that seems to be what they are doing, but it would be interesting to get inside the group and seeing if that tallies with what is being said and done within those four walls.
It is not a cup final, it is just another match – but it is a critical match in which they need to perform well.
All they can do is concentrate on every area of the game and make sure all their units are on top form, and that everybody realises what it takes to win.
They have got to be secure on the ball when they have got possession, and make sure the tackling is first-rate. They cannot allow Worcester to start to offload because, as the grounds are firming up, sides are looking to play much more of a running game.
We will wait and see what kind of day the North East weather produces, but with Kingston Park being as draughty as it is there is an onus on using the elements to play in the right areas of the field if that wind gets up again. The preparation of a professional team of course takes place over a much greater period of time than in my own playing days.
The time we had together as a team was limited largely to a Tuesday and Thursday night on the training field, although there may have been a phone call from Jack Rowell, Peter Dixon or another of the senior players. That would be it, really, until you got in the changing room on a Saturday.
Even then, we never warmed up on the field. We just stayed inside, and the regime that now exists was never even thought of during that era.
That is not to say we did not give a lot of thought to our preparation, and we would have seen our opposition playing on BBC Rugby Special or followed the reports in the national newspapers when we were facing big sides like Coventry, London Welsh and the like.
As our own reputation grew at Gosforth through the 1970s, it would be turned on its head a little with sides more worried about us than we were of them, but that comes through the increased confidence of winning games and developing a reputation for yourselves.