Newcastle Falcons ready for big test

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NEWCASTLE and Exeter will meet for the fifth time this season tonight, with Falcons boss Alan Tait claiming: “We know what is coming.”

Tait’s team won the last encounter, an LV= Cup game two weeks ago, while both Amlin Challenge Cup games went to the home side following Exeter’s Aviva Premiership triumph last September.

League business is now back on the agenda at Kingston Park, where Newcastle would open up a minimum seven-point advantage over bottom club Leeds Carnegie if they triumph.

“This will be a big test to see where we are at the moment,” said Newcastle head coach Tait.

“They (Exeter) are sitting pretty in the table and we have to aspire to that, showing what we are capable of.

“We know what Exeter are going to bring to Kingston Park. We saw them against Harlequins last week – we had a good look at them – and they smashed Quins up front.

“They have a huge pack who were used to winning rugby matches in the Championship, and they’ve brought that spirit up with them to the Premiership. We know what is coming, and we are ready.”

Exeter are enjoying a superb debut season in English rugby’s top-flight, having won six of their 13 games and standing a healthy 18 points above Leeds.

Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter said: “If we want to become a successful Premiership side in the future, we are going to be facing a lot of these kind of games, so I want to see the kind of players who can deal with it.

“We talked after the Harlequins game and said the disappointment would be if we don’t follow it up.

“It isn’t easy, but if we can start to back up one performance with another that moves you away from being a bottom-third team to a middle-third team, and those are the next challenges for us.”

The scramble for title play-off places behind top two clubs Leicester and Saracens currently sees five teams separated by just four points.

Two of the chasing group - Gloucester and London Irish - clash at Kingsholm tonight, while third-placed Northampton visit Bath tomorrow, when sixth-placed Wasps go to Leicester and Harlequins, in seventh, host Sale Sharks.

Gloucester will face Irish without ankle injury victim James Simpson-Daniel, but the home side are favourites to make it seven games unbeaten in all competitions since losing at Leeds on New Year’s Day.

And Quins, whose long unbeaten run came to an end at Exeter, should prove that result was a blip when they face an erratic Sale side at the Twickenham Stoop.

“We have come off our first defeat in a long time in all competitions, and it has been a bitter pill for us all to swallow,” said Quins rugby director Conor O’Shea.

“We need to maintain our home form if we are to retain our ambition to be in the play-offs at the end of the season.”