Newcastle Falcons boss Steve Bates will delay naming his team for Saturday's European Challenge Cup quarter-final against Castres, as England backs Mathew Tait and Jamie Noon bid to prove their fitness.Bates will not announce his side until Friday lunchtime, giving Tait time to pass a cognitive test following the concussion picked up last weekend at Harlequins, and Noon time to recover from the knock he received two weeks ago at Leeds.
“They’re both thinking positive in terms of this weekend, but we will delay the team announcement until Friday just to give them every opportunity of being fit,” said acting director of rugby, Bates.
“Mathew has had a few days of complete rest after what was a pretty severe bang to the head, but the medical staff are very encouraged by the speed of his recovery and he will have another cog test during the week to see if he is ready for selection.
“Noony trained on Monday but felt a bit sore the next day, so we have given him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off in the hope that his injury clears up enough in time for the weekend.
“Again, the medics are confident he stands a good chance for this game, but we will name the team on Friday once we have given both players every chance. Other than that there are no new injury concerns arising from our game last weekend, and it is a case of players coming back rather than dropping out.”
Coming up against a Castres side placed sixth in the French Top 14, Bates said: “I’ve watched a lot of their recent games, and they are a very big, physical side with a lot of experience in the pack.
“Lionel Nallet is an outstanding leader and a very influential player in the line out, plus they have one or two lively backs like Phil Christophers, who people over here may know from when he played for England.”
Coming in to the game having taken a bonus point from last weekend’s trip to in-form Harlequins, Bates said: “We felt we were very unlucky to be on the end of one or two interesting refereeing decisions which had a big influence on the scoreline, and I thought we competed well against a very good Quins team in getting a bonus point down there in difficult conditions.
“What I’m looking for this weekend is another step forward from this group of players, and if we implement the game plan we have talked about then we stand a good chance of putting ourselves in a position to make the semi-finals.”
Signalling the belief in the Falcons camp, he stated: “We feel we’ve got a side that can win this competition.
“The circumstances surrounding this game are different to the league matches we have been playing, and I expect the players to be very excited about the prospect of playing for a place a European semi-final. The team feels strongly that it can win this game, and then put itself in an excellent position to win some silverware for the fans.
“There are some real issues surrounding why we haven’t converted some of our possession and opportunity in to winning performances, and we have certainly been having frank discussions about that during this week.
“If there was any doubt before then there is none now about what is required to turn these close games in to wins, and they are working very hard every day in training to implement that mindset as we look to take a big step forward on Saturday.”
With the defensive resolve of his side to the fore, Bates added: “Defensively we have been very strong, and we’ve gone more than 159 minutes without conceding a try.
“Last weekend a good Harlequins side spent a lot of time in our 22 and I don’t think they really looked like scoring a try, which is testament to the attitude we have shown in protecting our line.
“The same could be said at Leeds apart from a freak try in the first nine seconds, and what that does is give you a sound base on which to build a performance. From there clearly what we need to add is more of a try-scoring threat and tactical appreciation, but that is gradually evolving and I am confident we will see strides made this weekend in that regard.”
Hailing the Kingston Park crowd as a potential X-factor in the race for the final four, Bates said: “Our supporters have been incredibly patient, and we are acutely aware that we owe them a winning performance on Saturday.
“They have stuck with us during some pretty thin times, they are fantastically loyal and the backing that they give the players both home and away has been outstanding.
“They have a big role to play this weekend, as do the players in giving them something to get excited about, and if we can create that sort of atmosphere then it really sets the stage for us to utilise that home advantage.”
Standing tickets in the South Terrace are still available for Saturday’s game by calling 0871 226 60 60, or popping to Kingston Park during office hours.