Toby Flood says Newcastle Falcons must carry their early-season form into the European Challenge Cup as they prepare for Saturday’s visit of Welsh side, Dragons.
The 60-times-capped England international is in contention for the first competitive start of his second spell at the club as the Falcons look to build on a solid opening to the Aviva Premiership, one which has seen them winning four of their six games and taking a bonus point in defeat to champions Exeter Chiefs last weekend.
Determined for Newcastle not to slow down during the European fortnight, Flood said: “The big danger for us is that we switch off because we’re sat here thinking we’ve got ourselves into a good position in the Premiership.
“We can’t fall into the trap of thinking let’s just get through these two European games and see where we are come the Leicester match, because that’s when complacency creeps in. We just need to go all-out in the Challenge Cup games, get it right on the field and take that momentum back into the Premiership.
“If you look back we’re in a pretty good position in the Premiership with four wins from six and being in the top four in the division, but it’s still early days. If we don’t perform during the next part of the season we’ll be chasing ourselves a little, and it comes down to making sure we keep it going.
“This time of the season things can be a little bit stop-start with chopping between three different competitions, and we need to remain switched-on the whole time. What we can’t do is take our foot off the gas in Europe – we need to keep the momentum going and make sure we go into that Leicester game with two decent wins behind us.
“Part of having a big and strong squad is the ability to use it at times like these, and there are a lot of guys here who have not necessarily been in the Premiership starting XV but who can still do a great job. It’s an exciting time because players can really make a name for themselves during this window, and there are a lot of boys pushing for selection.”
Pooled with Dragons, French side Bordeaux-Begles and Russian club Enisei-STM for six home-and-away matches, the five group winners and three best runners-up will progress through to the quarter-finals of a competition the Falcons have never won.
“The way the European Challenge Cup is structured means that if you don’t get the first two weeks right you can struggle, and find yourself in a bit of a hole,” said the three-time Premiership champion.
“That in itself means you’re almost into knock-out rugby straightaway, and that increases the intensity of the players, the crowd and as a result the pressure on the match officials. All of that wrapped into one means we have to make sure we’re on it from the start, and that buzz in the crowd can really lift us. We’ve got to make sure we manage that first 20 minutes, and if we can do that we’ve potentially got a chance in this competition in terms of heading off to Bordeaux next weekend in a good position.”
Enduring a frustratingly protracted start to his second stint as a Falcon despite shining in pre-season friendlies Flood was back with a bang from the bench at Exeter last weekend, slotting a pair of conversions from wide out as his side claimed a four-try bonus point at the champions.
“It was not ideal doing 8-10 weeks of pre-season then having to re-start it again due to the hamstring, but that’s the way things fall some time and I wasn’t too despondent,” he said.
“Getting out on the field again down at Exeter was nice, and although the result wasn’t the best it was good just to give the old lungs a bit of a bashing. It did feel like one step forward two steps back in the sense that we undid a lot of the good work we’d done in terms of our execution over the previous fortnight, but that’s where we find ourselves at the moment.
“We’re in a position where we’re disappointed by getting a bonus point away to the Premiership champions, and we know there was more for us out there if we were a bit more precise.”
Expecting an open game against a Dragons side who were beaten by the Falcons in last season’s rain-affected game in Wales, he added: “I don’t think either team can really take too much from last season’s game down there, mainly because of the changes in personnel and the fact it was played in thick mud. We’ve got a synthetic pitch up here and a side which has evolved quite a bit, and so it hasn’t really been a major part of our preparation to look at what happened last season.
“In terms of this weekend I think they’ve had a fair few injuries and may perhaps be resting a few of their regular Pro 14 starters, so it may be a bit of a varied squad on their part. What that means is they’ll come here with no fear, and a lot of young guys who want to prove a point. Hopefully that can be good for us in terms of making it a high-tempo game with plenty of ball-in-play time, which is ultimately what we like.
“What we need to do is ensure we go over to Bordeaux next week on the back of a home win, and if we can do that then it just adds to that feeling of momentum and really gives us a chance of pulling through this group.”
Tickets for Saturday’s 3pm kick-off are available by calling 0871 226 6060.