Tongan forward Nili Latu says Newcastle Falcons are testing themselves against the best on Sunday when Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs come to Kingston Park Stadium.
The 3pm kick-off sees the Falcons trying to extend their five-game winning streak after coming out on top in all of their December outings, but Latu is aware of the step up in class which awaits his team against the league leaders.
“Exeter aren’t champions for nothing, they achieved that honour because they consistently look after the little things and that’s what we need to be doing,” said the No 8, whose side sit fifth in the Premiership table and unbeaten in both cups going into their first assignment of 2018.
“This is a real chance to show our supporters that we’re here for the long run.
“Exeter aren’t a fancy team but they’re relentless in their good habits, they have a real edge, they hang in there and they stick to their system. The way they play really suits the players they have, it’s working for them and it’s great for us to test ourselves against a team of that standard.
“With starting the second round of Premiership games everyone has a feel for each other, we’re excited about where we are and also about testing ourselves against the champions and league leaders.”
Victories over Harlequins and London Irish book-ended Newcastle’s Christmas programme, Latu stating: “Christmas and new year was a pretty quiet one for me and my family because we are expecting our fourth child, but we managed to see friends, which was nice.
“On the rugby side the most important thing for us is building momentum, and the way to do that is to win, which we’re doing.
“Of course we have to look at the last two weeks because there are elements of our performances which weren’t where they need to be, but the great thing is we still won both of those games.
“We’ve got to make sure that we play for 80 minutes, and it’s a new year, so it’s a new start in some ways. There’s a lot of excitement around the club about the position we’ve put ourselves in, but there’s a long way to go.”
Outlining the continual quest for improvement, Latu also revealed how Newcastle have been receiving input from Wigan Warriors coaches as the Super League team embarked on a pre-season training camp at Kingston Park.
“I just joined in the later part of the training with the backs, but it was good,” he said.
“It was focusing on how to fix more players man-on, and even though they are two different codes I think there are things that each can learn from the other. The more you learn, the better and more rounded you become as a player and a team.
“It’s only little things which are letting us down at the moment. We’re doing everything right at times but there are crucial spells where we’re letting ourselves down, and the main focus is ironing out those creases. It’s just little things so I don’t think it’s unfixable, but it demands a lot of concentration and persistence.”
Tickets for Sunday’s 3pm kick-off against Exeter Chiefs are available by calling 0871 226 6060 or clicking here.