They may have lost their last eight Aviva Premiership matches but Newcastle Falcons will certainly be no pushovers, especially on their home patch according to Northampton Saints flanker Calum Clark.
Clark’s Saints make the trip up to Newcastle for Sunday’s game looking to maintain their position at the top of the table.
The Saints have won their last eight away games in all tournaments since October while their most recent defeat in the league came in round three with their 26-24 loss to Gloucester Rugby.
During that run, they defeated the Falcons 18-0 at Franklin’s Gardens although Clark believes they will be coming up against a much improved outfit this time around.
Falcons’ last two games at Kingston Park in the LV=Cup yielded two victories and Clark is conscious of not letting them make it a hat-trick of wins.
“Newcastle have improved a lot. Even when we played them earlier in the season at our place, they were a really difficult side to break down, they competed for everything,” he said.
“And then it will be at their place and they will look to notch it up a level. They have been playing really well at home and they will probably target this game as one they can win.
“It’s quite an outpost up there at Kingston Park, it’s a long old trip up there and with the weather conditions which can be difficult at times, it’s a tough place to go.
“Then with the coaching staff, Dean Richards and John Wells, both of whom have long careers in the sport, they are very proud blokes and set their teams up to do well.”
Saints welcome back Kahn Fotuali’i and Christian Day into their starting line-up with Lee Dickson on the bench for England this Saturday.
While Falcons make three changes from last weekend’s narrow 18-14 loss to Harlequins with hooker Matt Thompson, tighthead prop Oliver Tomaszczyk and No.8 Ally Hogg all returning.
The hosts have not tasted victory against Northampton in their last seven encounters, a record scrum-half Mike Blair is well aware of, although he was also banking on the benefit of home advantage.
“We’re playing at home, so that’s something we can use, but we haven’t trained on the pitch for five or six weeks, it’s heavy going out there,” said Blair.
“I’m expecting a bruising encounter, and this is the first of two home games in a row for us with Leicester next up so it’s vitally important.
“It doesn’t get an easier with Northampton coming this weekend, it might be an international week but they still have a very strong side to their side.
“Kahn Fotuali'I, Stephen Myler,– these are all quality players so they don’t lose a huge amount and they’ll be looking to keep pushing at the top of the table.
“That’s the strength that the top teams have, guys of equal quality coming in and doing equally well.”
Kingston Park, 3pm
Referee: Andrew Small (99th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Robin Goodliffe & Ashley Rowden. TMO: Trevor Fisher.