Flanker John Hardie says mental toughness will be a key feature for Newcastle Falcons this season as they attack the Greene King IPA Championship.
Determined to bounce back to the Premiership at the first attempt but taking nothing for granted, the Scottish international knows he and his team-mates will need to cope with the fact they will be marked men for the entire duration of the campaign.
“We’re aware that it’s going to be a cup final for every team that’s playing against us this season, we’re the team they all want to beat and we need to be mentally switched on every single day to be able to deal with that,” said the open-side.
“One of our big things this season is that our mentality has to be absolutely 100% all of the time, every single training session and every game we play. We’re not taking anyone lightly, and as much as we want to get promoted we’re not thinking it’s a done deal.”
Fresh from a week working in the community along with his rugby commitments, Hardie said he and his Falcons team-mates have benefited from a week of painting and DIY at local charities and rugby clubs.
“The boys have had five days of community work to go along with their pre-season programme, so we’ve been training first thing in the morning, doing a day’s work and then coming back to train again in the evening,” he said.
“My group was at Percy Park rugby club for the first two days, then a youth project for one day and to finish we were at Gosforth rugby club.
“To be fair I actually enjoyed it, and as much as it made it a long day it was actually great to spend so much time in each other’s company, to build that rapport with some of the new guys and to have a laugh while working hard at the same time.
“It’s certainly different from our day-to-day environment, and little things you take for granted as a professional player are maybe appreciated a bit more now, like not having to make your own lunch. It was also nice to see the progress of the job and to have the feeling of completing it, but I know for a fact that I want to keep playing rugby for a wee bit longer!”
Freshened up for the start of pre-season by his annual return to New Zealand, Hardie explained: “It was good, I headed back home as I always do once a year and it was awesome just to see my family and friends.
“I had four weeks there in total, during which time I went to see my sister at Golden Bay in Nelson, I caught up with my brother too and then for most of the time I was back home on the family farm with my mum and dad.
“It was a great break from things, but after four weeks it was time to come back, and I’ve just had the mind-set of being really keen to rip into pre-season.”
Laying the foundations for the campaign to come, Hardie said: “This is my 11th or 12th pre-season, and it’s been good.
“We’ve gradually built it up, we’ve been doing skills work right from week one along with our strength and conditioning, and I think it’s important to get that rugby input early.
“With not playing until the back end of September it’s a long pre-season this year, and it gives us time to build into it so that the engine is really humming when we go into our first game.
“It’s one of those things where the gym work and the fitness has got to be done, but the great thing here is they mix it in with some fun stuff and plenty of ball-in-hand. That’s what you play rugby for, what you enjoy, and we’re still getting a good blow-out while managing to enjoy most of it.”
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