Hooker George McGuigan says Newcastle Falcons will need to withstand an early onslaught to come away with a 16th successive victory when they travel to Nottingham on Friday.
The unbeaten Falcons have made a flying start to the Greene King Championship season, but co-captain McGuigan is well aware of the need to absorb the early enthusiasm of their opponents ahead of the Lady Bay showdown.
“It’ll be a hard game down at Nottingham and none of the boys are taking anything for granted,” said the 26-year-old, who has scored six tries in seven games this season.
“We’re expecting it to be an absolute battle, and it has been a bit of a theme this season that the opposition will come out flying for the first 20 minutes. We’re expecting that again, we need to weather that storm and ensure we just take care of our basics.
“All the teams in this division take playing against the relegated Premiership team as a massive opportunity - it feels like it’s their cup final and you have to ride that early onslaught. Eventually our fitness levels and our quality will hopefully tell, and we’ve been able to break down most teams in the last 20 or so minutes.
“When you’re under that pressure early on you just need to go back to basics, play in the right areas and look after the ball. Teams want to feed off our mistakes, so we need to make as few of them as possible and impose our game onto them.”
Braced for a set-piece examination, McGuigan said: “Nottingham have one of the best packs in the league so we’re expecting them to try and nullify us in that area, and it’ll be a battle.
“Their scrum and line-out are both strong so we need to be ready for that challenge, and the onus on the lads is just to beat their physicality during those exchanges.
“We’re going down there with a strong side, we’ll have some experienced heads in there and we’ll need a huge amount of professionalism to go and get the job done.”
Hoping for a more rounded 80 minutes than they produced during Sunday’s 36-10 away win over Yorkshire, the co-captain said: “It wasn’t really the performance we’d wanted and there are a lot of work-ons that we took from the game, but at the end of the day we still got the five points.
“We know there’s a lot more to come from us. We’ve been sloppy and made mistakes, possibly by trying too hard on some occasions. Hopefully we can put that right down at Nottingham and put in a really big 80 minutes.
“We’ve not managed to achieve that complete performance yet but we’re still 15 from 15 in terms of games won, and if you’d offered us that at the start of the season we’d have taken it. We’re on the right path, which is the main thing, and we’re just working hard on the areas where we know we need to improve.”
Sharing captaincy duties with Michael Young this season in a squad packed with options, he said: “It’s been quite nice having Micky there as co-captain to help share the role, although we’ve not always been on the field at the same time due to injuries and one thing or another.
“We’ve got good player numbers here both in terms of depth and quality, and that makes competition for places right across the team. Everyone is pushing each other, there is pressure on every position and ultimately that’s what drives up the quality.
"Yeah, it can be frustrating not to have consistency of selection for the guys who are rotated in or out, but you have to understand the bigger picture and realise the coaches are bringing in good players for good players.”