George Wacokecoke says Newcastle Falcons’ young guns have benefited from the added exposure and responsibility this season, as they take their unbeaten record to Hartpury on Saturday.
At the Championship’s midway stage the Falcons are 11 points clear, winning all 11 of their league games and all six of their cup encounters.
Central to that effort has been the form of the Fijian-born centre, who moved to England during his youth due to his father’s service in the British Army.
“This season has been fantastic for some of the younger lads to come through and get some game time, with the likes of myself, Ben Stevenson, Jamie Blamire and Adam Radwan among those being given a chance,” said the 24-year-old, who has scored eight tries in his 15 appearances this term.
“I would never say getting relegated has been a good thing, but from the perspective of developing as players by getting minutes on the field I think it has been great this season that we’ve had that opportunity.
“It’s not just a case of getting out on the field, we’ve actually been placed in leadership roles, and that’s giving us the confidence to make calls out on the field and to have a big influence during games.”
Taking a bigger-picture view, Wacokecoke added: “We’re just trying to prepare and play like we would do in the Premiership, and not worrying too much about the results.
“It’s all about playing to those high standards and keeping that consistency across the season, and if we can keep our performance level up there then the results will naturally follow on from that.”
Maintaining their standards over the whole game is the next step for a Falcons side who allowed a 40-7 lead over Ampthill to turn into a 45-29 full-time score last Sunday, an outcome which left the centre and his team-mates unimpressed.
“It’s more the mental side where we need to improve, because we’ve shown what we can do when we’re fully firing,” said the England Students international, whose previous teams include Bath, Northumbria University and Darlington Mowden Park.
“Doing it for the full 80 and really finishing a game off is the obvious thing that everyone talks about, because having momentum for half a game isn’t good enough. To take that next step up to the Premiership and to compete at that level we need to be doing it from start to finish, and it’s something we’re working on.
“The boys were really disappointed with how we allowed last Sunday’s game to drift away, and that second half wasn’t what we are about as a team. That’s the most points any team has put past us this season, and while credit has to go to Ampthill we’re really disappointed that we allowed it to happen.”
Taking nothing for granted against Hartpury despite having already defeated the Gloucestershire-based team three times this season, Wacokecoke said: “Hartpury are a good side.
“They’re very physical, and that home they’re a different proposition. It’ll definitely be a challenge. We need to front up physically, earn the right to play and then hopefully profit from there.”