Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Falcons Ready for Their Last Chance; 'The Lads Know What Is at Stake ... There Are No Excuses'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Falcons Ready for Their Last Chance; 'The Lads Know What Is at Stake ... There Are No Excuses'

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Douglas

It has been another disappointing campaign for Newcastle Falcons, but a European Challenge Cup semi-final at Worcester tonight offers hope for Steve Bates' side. Mark Douglas reports on their salvage mission

NEWCASTLE Falcons are shooting for more than just a place in a cup final and a crack at the European elite when they step out under the Friday night lights at Worcester this evening.

After a troubling season that has seen rancour off the field and a run of desperately poor results on it, redemption as much as silverware is on the agenda for Steve Bates and his under-performing side tonight.

Sacking popular coaches Peter Walton and John Fletcher in March was seen as a way of jolting the Falcons out of their 'comfort zone', but in terms of league results is has backfired spectacularly.

Bates' side approach their European Challenge Cup semi-final clash at Six ways cut adrift in the bottom three of the Guinness Premiership following seven straight defeats.

The Falcons are sipping in last chance saloon for only victory in the European Challenge Cup will earn them a passage into the Heineken Cup and, with it, some salvaged pride from a season to forget.

The omens aren't great with Worcester - who, like the Falcons, have underachieved this season - finally showing signs of hitting form and are formidable opponents in their own back yard.

But the noises coming from the camp this week are that the players are finally ready to put the departure of the popular Fletcher and Walton double act behind them.

For skipper Phil Dowson - one of 15 changes from the experimental side that put up a brave but ultimately futile effort at Sale last weekend - it is crucial the Falcons add a silver lining to the clouds that have cast a long shadow over their efforts this season.

"You could call the game lots of things - vital is one," the pacey forward admitted. "We could save our season with it. The last few months have been very turbulent and this would be a silver lining to that cloud, definitely.

"It would give us something to look forward to in terms of the Heineken Cup qualification. The lads know what is at stake on Friday and everyone is really excited about that opportunity. There are no excuses. Whether we'd been rested or not we'd not be looking towards excuses. All the cliches are there but it's up to us to get results."

The fact that the Falcons, a team brimming with World Cup, Six Nations and Heineken Cup experience, are rated as underdogs against one of only two teams below them in the league is a measure of just how far the team has fallen below their own high standards this season.

But the tale of the tape illustrates the bookies' faith in the in-form Warriors might not be misplaced.

Falcons' disastrous run in the league betrays their brittle confidence, and their away form has been a constant cause for concern this campaign with 10 defeats on their travels. …

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