Joel Hodgson says Newcastle Falcons won’t be sucked into playing helter-skelter rugby during Saturday’s Aviva Premiership climax in Bristol, with a European Champions Cup play-off place up for grabs.
To make the play-offs Newcastle need to finish seventh in the league and hope that Gloucester do not win the European Challenge Cup final – the Falcons’ chances of ending up seventh hinging on home defeats for Northampton and Gloucester on a day of seemingly endless permutations.
Keen for his team to follow their own pattern rather than playing without a framework, Hodgson said: “There’s a lot riding on it for us, and there’s the chance of achieving something that hasn’t been done in 13 years in terms of qualifying for the Champions Cup.
“We can’t wait for it, and I see no reason why we can’t finish seventh. We’ve just got to put in a performance, which is all we can do, and we’ll do everything in our power to take care of the things we can control.
“Bristol know their fate in terms of finishing bottom but they have been dangerous and competitive all season, and with it being their last game in the Premiership and in front of their home crowd, they may look to throw the ball around a bit more. We’ve just got to stay disciplined because we’ve put a game-plan in place, and we think it will work if we stick to it. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t if we execute our roles, and it’s about having the discipline to stay within that shape.
“We’ve got to be 100% accurate in everything we do, we’ve got to do what we have talked about during the week and not just pay lip service to it. I’ve no doubt that we’ll do it this weekend, and the boys are absolutely buzzing for this game.”
Despite being aware that bonus points may come into the equation, the fly-half insists the thoughts of his team are focused only on winning the game when it gets underway on Saturday at 4pm.
Hodgson said: “I’m sure that if it comes to the crunch towards the end of the game we’ll have all the information we need about what we have to do to finish seventh, with people on the sidelines being across all the other scores. But as we go into the game all we’re focusing on is winning, and that’s from minute one.
“Through good execution of our plays we’ll hopefully score enough tries which mean we don’t need to worry whether we do or don’t need to gamble later on for a bonus point, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Having returned to his hometown club this season following two years away at Northampton and Yorkshire Carnegie, the 24-year-old has recently signed a long-term contract extension to remain with the Kingston Park outfit, who would enjoy their highest number of Premiership victories in 15 years if they were to win at Ashton Gate.
“I’ve loved this season and am thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given. The coaches have shown faith in me, my team-mates have accepted me back into the club and have helped me grow into a role where I can lead from the front. That’s what you need to do as a fly-half and it’s a really exciting time to be at Newcastle Falcons.
“If you were to stop someone in the crowd at one of our home games and ask them what they thought about the way we were playing, I think they’d say it’s a lot more exciting this season with more attacking, running rugby. That’s what we want to do, albeit in the right areas of the field, and we’ve seen our attacking shape develop into something that really is a weapon for us.
“As we go into next season, and hopefully the Champions Cup play-offs later this month, it’s about tweaking that to find out how we can get more points or improve our conversion rate, so that when we get our opportunities we’re able to take them.
“The only thing that will put a tinge on this season will be the fact we have been a bit hitty-missy in the closing third of the year. We started well and were flying around Christmas, putting some big teams away, but in this last little block we haven’t always been at the races. We had a big opportunity to kick on and haven’t fully done it, but we’re still hanging in there and fighting. It’s now about making sure we do ourselves justice for all the hard work we’ve put in over the season.”