Line-out coach Scott MacLeod has reminded his Newcastle Falcons players of the need to meet the physical challenge on Sunday when Russian champions Enisei-STM arrive at Kingston Park Stadium.
The 3pm kick-off sees the Falcons homing in on a European Challenge Cup quarter-final spot after winning all four of their pool games to date, but MacLeod knows they will face a fierce confrontational challenge against the Continental Shield winners.
“Enisei will be a big set of boys, they ran Bordeaux close in France and did the same at the Dragons the week before,” said the former Scotland second-row.
“They’re better than people who haven’t watched them will probably think, they’re a very physical side and they’ve got quality. They never give up, they fight for everything and we have to be ready for that.
“If we impose our game and play at the pace we’ve been playing at lately, we’ll be fine. We’re a good enough team to do that but we have to earn the right to play, and we have to prepare for the kind of physical challenge that Enisei are going to bring.”
The Falcons have rotated their resources but have maintained a number of their Premiership regulars for the 3pm kick-off, MacLeod insisting: “Everybody wants to play, and the guys who are standing down this weekend are rightfully concerned that the people coming in will take their shirts.
“That’s the quality and depth we now have here, and when guys are worried about losing their spots they’re right to be worried. It is what it is, the boys all want to play for this club and it doesn’t matter what competition it’s in.
“I’m excited about seeing Zach Kibirige and Adam Radwan on the wings because they’re both lightning quick, they’ve trained really well and I think they can cause a lot of damage if we get them the ball in good positions.
“If you chuck in a Simon Hammersley, a Toby Flood and all the other guys into that mix, you’re talking about a back line with a lot of danger in it. If we work hard we’ll have enough, but we need to earn that platform.”
The Falcons are on a run of six successive victories in all competitions, the last three of those coming in the Premiership as MacLeod’s men climbed into the top half of the table.
“Winning our three Premiership games over the festive period was a massive feather in our cap, and we really manned up against Exeter last weekend,” said the line-out coach.
“It was a massive reward for the hard work the boys have shown, and the thing now is to build on the position we’ve put ourselves in.
“Exeter are a relentless team who keep going, and going and going, but I thought we almost imposed that on them. It was bullying the bullies, in a way, because we withstood them and came back at them.
“When you have Sinoti dancing about like he does and Niki Goneva getting his customary interception try, it’s great to see, and when you add that in with the whole collective effort it was just a great team performance. The thing that really stood out was the crowd, how they responded to everything we did, and how the players in turn responded to the fans by raising the level again. I thought that was class from our fans, and great to see from such a loyal bunch.”
Turning to his own specialist area, the Hawick native added: “Our line-out is going well and I’m pleased with where we’re at. We’re second in the league stats-wise in both defence and attack, and I’m happy.
“Calum Green is someone who has played a big part in that, and he’s playing the rugby of his life. He has always been good in the tight exchanges but he’s taking things on board, stealing a lot of ball, he’s belting boys in defence and getting more of a leg-drive which makes him a ball-carrying threat. He is one of a number of very good second-row players we’ve got here, and we’re fortunate in that sense because we’ve got a good blend of players.”
Looking to the bigger picture in the European Challenge Cup, he added: “The main goal is a home quarter-final - that’s the carrot that’s dangling for everybody but we have to be professional in how we go about these next two games.
“It’s a case of manning up, doing the hard work and then imposing our own game from there. We want to grasp this chance with both hands because having a home quarter-final is huge for us, and we have the quality to do it.”
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