Aviva Premiership - Round 22
Gold talks up Falcons' chances
May 4, 2012
Gary Gold's Falcons side need to beat Wasps by 24 points and deny them a bonus point to preserve their Premiership status © Getty Images
Newcastle Falcons boss Gary Gold believes his side are more than capable of conjuring the great escape required to preserve their Aviva Premiership status.
A 24-point win against fellow strugglers London Wasps at Adams Park on Saturday will be enough to save them from the drop, provided their relegation rivals do not collect a losing bonus point. It is a tall order for a side that has propped up the Premiership table for much of the season and whose biggest league victory this season was a nine-point win against Gloucester last month.
But director of rugby Gold, who only took charge at Kingston Park in January, is thrilled his players are still in there scrapping to stay up. "It would go down as a real highlight of my career if we managed to stay up. To keep Premiership rugby in the north-east would be an achievement of the human spirit," he said.
"It is about a group of guys who have not been given a chance to stay up - it is the essence of rugby, and anything is possible. I have just been blown away by the attitude that the players have shown on the field and how knowledgeable they are of the game.
"They have really responded to fighting for Premiership survival, and we have certainly been improving week in and week out. That is the reason why we have been able to go toe to toe with the top teams in the Premiership. We need to show real belief on Saturday. I know it is a pressure situation, but we are in with a real chance of getting the result we need."
The Falcons are unchanged for the match - meaning Jimmy Gopperth is again joined by Ireland international Peter Stringer at halfback - while Wasps welcome back skipper Marco Wentzel from injury. The former Leeds lock's return shifts Joe Launchbury to the back-row while Richard Haughton starts at fullback.
While Wasps and Newcastle strive to avoid finishing rock-bottom - although relegation cannot be ratified until the Championship winners are known later this month - title play-off positions will also be confirmed tomorrow.
Long-time leaders Harlequins need victory over Sale at Edgeley Park to guarantee top spot and a home draw, while Leicester will be back at Welford Road next weekend if they brush off Bath. Saracens, at home to Exeter, could also secure a home tie, but only if they win and there are slip-ups elsewhere.
Sale show eight changes from the side that won at Gloucester last time out, and Premiership Rugby could opt to assess the line-up closely as it appears to be some way short of full strength. Fly-half Tommy Bell and flanker Will Bordill make their senior debuts, while the bench includes the likes of Tommy Taylor, Ross Harrison, Billy Emerson and Jordan Davies.
Quins skipper Chris Robshaw will make his 100th Premiership appearance, while Joe Gray returns at hooker in the only change to the visitors' pack.
Martin Castrogiovanni returns to the Leicester front-row against Bath and Steve Mafi - who has been named Players' Player of the Year by the Tigers - replaces the injured Tom Croft at blindside flanker. Saracens, meanwhile, are able to call on Brad Barritt after he missed their tie with Newcastle, while John Smit and Joe Maddock return from injury on the bench.
Northampton will clinch the fourth and final play-off slot by accounting for visitors Worcester, with the final two Heineken Cup qualifiers for next season being Exeter and probably Sale. Exeter, though, can climb above Saints and into the play-offs by succeeding at Vicarage Road, if Northampton suffer a surprise defeat.
"Saturday is an important game for a number of reasons," Exeter head coach Rob Baxter said. "Personally, I'm not one for guys drifting away simply because it is the end of the season and that they are thinking about their holidays.
"I know we have a proud of group of players, some of whom could be thinking about summer tours. There is a lot of motivation in something like that, and I know we have a few guys in with a shout."
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