Newcastle Falcons captain Will Welch says he and his team will benefit from a vocal home support ahead of Sunday’s Gallagher Premiership season opener against champions Saracens at Kingston Park Stadium.
The flanker and his squad are keen to kick on from last season’s fourth-placed finish, champions Saracens offering a robust test in week one for a Falcons side who were the surprise package of 2017/18.
Sunday’s 3pm kick-off is set to be played in front of the Falcons’ biggest first home game attendance since 2004, when a crowd of 8,706 filed through the turnstiles for a 22-21 victory over Harlequins. And Welch believes they could be the difference after a run of home victories last season which lasted more than five and a half months.
“I’ve said it a lot of times now but I firmly believe it – when we get 7,000 or 8,000 inside Kingston Park Stadium it feels like a full house, and the noise is incredible,” said the skipper.
“The players really feed off that, it gives us extra excitement when our fans really get behind us and we’re lucky that we have such a supportive group of people coming to see us.”
Expecting a bruising afternoon against the champions but confident his men can rise to the challenge, Welch said: “Saracens don’t change too much so you pretty much know what you’re going to get, but they do everything well.
“They’re physical, they have a great set-piece, they’re champions for a reason and we know what they’re about. We’ve had a good pre-season but I’m sure every club will say the same, so it’s a chance for us to really show it on Sunday.
“There’s no better way to kick off the season than by playing against the champions, and to do so in front of a big home crowd. It’s a massive challenge having big games every week but we have a good squad in place here, and we’ll need that depth as the season progresses.
“The Premiership certainly doesn’t get any easier and I don’t think there’s a single poor team in the division. It’ll be a tough ask going from week to week, but we have the squad to do it.”
Keen to progress after last season’s breakthrough season for the club after a summer campaign which saw them winning handsomely at European and Pro 14 champions Leinster, the flanker added: “It’s come around quick and we’re excited to be back into the Gallagher Premiership stuff now.
“Last season was great and I think the plaudits we received from a lot of people were well deserved, but that’s finished now and we have to start from scratch.
“Pre-season has gone well for us, a lot of guys have got game time and we’ve got young lads pushing through in every department. We’ve had the biggest amount of academy lads graduating into the senior set-up this summer, they’ve fitted in really well and that says a lot about the talent we have here in the region.
“Dean [Richards] is massive on that in terms of believing in bringing through the local players, and as a Newcastle lad myself I know what it means. Hopefully a lot of those guys can go on to become regular players and continue the progression the club is making, and they certainly have the ability.”
Asked about targets going into the Gallagher Premiership, Welch replied: “Ideally you’d like to be top six, and that has to be the aim. Once you’re in that mix you’re then touching top four, but it’s the old cliché of just taking it game by game.
“I know that’s a pretty boring thing to say but it has to be the mind-set, because if you start thinking two, three and four weeks ahead then you get yourself into trouble by taking your eye off the short term. Taking care of the day to day stuff and throwing everything into each game is what will eventually see you climb the table, and that’s all we’re doing.”
Qualifying for Europe’s top-tier competition for the first time in 14 seasons and with the finals due to be played in Newcastle in May, he added: “The Heineken Champions Cup is new to most of us, although a few of the boys have played in it previously for other clubs.
“We’ll have to find our feet a little bit on that front as the season wears on, but it’s exciting to be involved and we feel like we’re in a great position going into the Premiership.”
Tickets for Sunday’s 3pm kick-off against Saracens are selling fast, but are available by clicking here.