Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards admits he has some selection headaches after his side produced an imperious display to down Sale Sharks in the LV= Cup.
After losing their first two games in the competition, the Falcons responded in style as winger Lee Smith grabbed himself a double in the 39-19 win at Kingston Park.
Alex Rogers and Josh Furno dotted down from the back of driving mauls while No. 8 Uili Kolo’ofai also crossed the whitewash as the hosts racked up five tries.
Sale did grab a consolation score through Viliami Fihaki but, in truth, Steve Diamond’s men were overpowered by a physically imposing, well-drilled Falcons outfit.
Their pack dominated proceedings throughout and, while he didn’t grab himself a try, veteran lock Scott MacLeod was the star of the show, according to Richards.
“The beauty for me at the moment is that any side I put out is going to be competitive and we'll always try and give players as many opportunities as possible,” explained Richards.
“Scotty MacLeod was man of the match in his first game for some time and his line-out work was exceptional and was instrumental in our scores.
“We have some experienced campaigners and some good youngsters coming through. The competition for places is right up there and the likes of MacLeod are putting pressure on all the other guys.
“That's the fifth game on the trot where we have scored a try bonus point.
“At the start of the season we were missing tries and finding it really frustrating as we chased a bonus point and all of a sudden it's clicked in and we're starting to get what we're after.
“We are playing a really good brand of rugby at the moment and it's very pleasing.”
Newcastle’s opening two LV= Cup losses mean they cannot qualify for the semi-finals from Pool 3 but will travel to London Irish next weekend looking to take some momentum back into Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Sale, who handed first starts to the likes of Ciaran Parker, TJ Ioane and George Nott, are in a similar situation to the Falcons as they can no longer catch Pool 2 leaders Cardiff Blues.
Their youthful line-up saw three players, Nathan Fowles, Joe Ford and Nott spend time in the sin-bin but director of rugby Diamond was quick to praise the opposition.
“I thought one of the sin-binnings was justified but to be given three was a little bit harsh but well done to Newcastle, they played well,” said Diamond.
“We have five big weeks coming up and we have to make the best of it we can.”
Newcastle Falcons: Tait; Smith, Helleur, Tuilagi (Hammersley 63), Barnes; Clegg (Godman 60), Tipuna (Blair 60); Fry (Vickers 66), Hawkins (Lawson 73), Rogers (Irving 66); Furno, MacLeod; Mayhew (Robinson 54), Saull, Kolo'ofai (Hogg 31).
Yellow Card: Saull
Sale Sharks: McLean; Brady, Forsyth, Bedlow (James 66), Mackenzie; Ford (Macleod 63), Fowles; de Marchi (Cobilas 63), Taylor (Mamukashvili 40), Parker (Flynn 64); Ostrikov, Nott; Easter, Ioane (Hughes 40), Fihaki.
Subs unused: Cliff, Hines
Yellow Cards: Fowles, Ford, Nott
Tries: Rogers, Smith 2, Kolo'ofai
Conversions: Clegg 2, Godman
Penalties: Clegg 2
Penalties: Ford 4
Referee: Rhys Thomas
Tickets for this year's LV= Cup Final on 22 March at Franklin's Gardens are now on sale. Click here to snap one up from just £20 for adults, £10 for juniors to see who will win the first silverware of the season.