Dean Richards has spoken of his excitement at returning to Aviva Premiership action as his Newcastle Falcons side prepare for Friday’s trip to Sale Sharks.

 The Falcons are aiming to do the double over their northern rivals after recording an opening-night victory at Kingston Park Stadium in September, the director of rugby saying: “This our bread and butter, and I absolutely love it.

“The Aviva Premiership is probably the best club competition in world rugby, and the fact that the cups are now over for us has really created that focus on the league. It certainly tidies up the season from that point of view, and the only focus we’ve got is winning as many games as we can in the Premiership.”

Expecting a tough evening at the AJ Bell Stadium, Richards’ men go into the game on the back of Anglo-Welsh Cup wins over Bath and Newport Gwent Dragons, and having also won their last league outing against Bath.

He said: “We are starting to get a bit of form again.

“We had a couple of weeks off for the cups where we tried and tested things, and gave people a game. The boys came through in the past two weeks, and that shows the confidence and the fact people are understanding exactly how we are trying to play.

“Sale are a difficult side to beat at their own stadium, and last season I think they only lost once there in the league. This season they have lost a few more but at the same time they are a difficult nut to crack, and we are under no illusions as to what it will take.

“They have got a lot of their big players back and are just starting to hit a bit of form. It makes them a difficult side to beat but, having said that, our own form down there is not too bad. As a result of that the trip holds no fear for us, we are winning a few on the road this season and we are confident going into what we know will be a hard battle.”

Having already won more Premiership games this season than they did over the whole of the previous one, Richards added: “Year on year we have been improving, and people have been frowning saying ‘yeah you’re improving, but you’re not getting the results.’

“But if you keep improving year after year, eventually you will start overtaking people. That’s what we have started to do, but it’s the smaller finer details that get you there. It’s a gradual thing and you don’t see it all at once. It’s frustrating but I’ve been there before, and I understand that. The beauty for us is that because we have been making ground, even if people haven’t always appreciated it, the confidence within the side has remained high during those last few years.

“People can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even though we weren’t quite getting the results we were being competitive most of our games. Now that we’re starting to win more than we have ever done, that confidence is growing even more.

 “The good thing about this group of boys is that they won’t get over-confident. It’s just not in their nature, and because of what has gone on in the last few years they appreciate that the only way to get up there to the top is through hard work.”

 Newcastle Falcons team to face Sale Sharks (Friday, 8.15pm, AJ Bell Stadium)

15 Alex Tait

14 Belisario Agulla

13 Chris Harris

12 Juan Pablo Socino

11 Vereniki Goneva

10 Joel Hodgson

9 Sonatane Takulua

1 Rob Vickers

2 Scott Lawson

3 Jon Welsh

4 Calum Green

5 Sean Robinson

6 Mark Wilson

7 Will Welch (captain)

8 Opeti Fonua

Replacements

16 Kyle Cooper

17 Ben Harris

18 Scott Wilson

19 Evan Olmstead

20 Nili Latu

21 Sam Egerton

22 Mike Delany

23 Dominic Waldouck

Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys

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