Forwards coach Micky Ward has told his Newcastle Falcons charges to ignore the league table as they prepare for Sunday’s top-versus-bottom clash at Yorkshire Carnegie.
Ward’s Falcons have won all 14 of their competitive games this season and face a Carnegie side who have lost all 14 of theirs, but Newcastle’s club record appearance maker will not be sucked into complacency.
“We just need to get down there and be professional about it,” said the former prop-forward.
“Mentally it’s probably our toughest game of the season because you can get sucked into looking at results and league tables, and we’re a top-of-the-league unbeaten team playing a win-less bottom-of-the-league team.
“People can fall into the trap of assuming they can just drift into the game and get the result, but one of the good things we have here is real competition for places.
“I think that’s a big factor because the lads are all challenging each other, and while on the one hand it’s a potential banana skin I think our guys all know their places are under pressure, and lads coming into the team for this game will be wanting to show us what they can do in terms of picking them for future matches.”
Ward added: “Jamie Blamire is a great example of a young local lad who has been given more of a chance this season, and he has done really well.
“He doesn’t want to sit behind George McGuigan all the time, he wants to put down a marker and say to the coaching team that we should be starting him every week. He’s not thinking that it’s Yorkshire Carnegie and they’re bottom of the league, because there’s a bigger picture for him.
“There are a lot of positions where that kind of situation is going on, and that’s what you want as a coach.”
Admitting the attention has been more on themselves than their hosts this week, he said: “We’ve had a massive focus on ourselves rather than doing a load of analysis on the opposition, although obviously we’ve still watched them.
“If we nail our own stuff then we’ll be in good order, but they’ve got better during the season and with Phil Davies back there now they’ll be improving even more.
“They were late starters in the sense that their squad didn’t come together until a week or two before the start of the season, so basic stuff like your defensive system and attacking shape weren’t really in place. People might think that sort of thing comes easy, but when lads haven’t played together it takes a lot of work.
“Generally, just things like their work rate to get back into position, has got better, but they’re now starting to work for each other in a way that they previously weren’t doing as much. Whether that’s Phil Davies getting into them or just the players having a better understanding of their systems, I don’t know, but there has been an improvement from how they were playing in the early part of the season.
“I’ve just said to our lads that you’ve got to give them respect, because they’re not going to go onto that field and just lie down. It’s professional sport, they’ll be wanting to make a statement despite the tough season they’re having, and what better way for them to do that than by beating the league leaders?
“That all means we have got to have the right mind-set when we go down there to ensure it doesn’t happen, and I’d back this group of players to do that.”
Insisting his Falcons side can get even better despite having won all of their games this season, Ward said: “There’s a lot more to come from us – make no mistake about that.
“As a coaching and playing group we are setting high standards, and we’ve not met them yet. The lads will win a game by 40 points and still be critical of their performance, so it’s just finding that balance of patting yourself on the back for the good bits and acknowledging the other areas where you can improve.
“You find yourself asking ‘if we’d played like that against Exeter in the Premiership would that level of performance have been up to scratch?’
“You’ve got to be realistic, but then also understanding that you can’t be constantly criticising the players when they’re sat there with 14 wins from 14 and well clear at the top of the table.”