Newcastle Falcons focus on LV= Cup final experience
LV= Cup Final Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton Date: Sunday, 20 March Kick-off: 1530 GMT Coverage: BBC Sport website, BBC Newcastle, BBC Radio Gloucestershire
Cup final reward for Falcons fans - Tait
It was only a couple of weeks ago that the knives began to sharpen for Newcastle Falcons.
The Kingston Park outfit had lost twice on the bounce against Exeter and London Irish in the Premiership, and were set to face fellow strugglers Leeds Carnegie in the archetypal 'relegation decider' at Headingley.
Fast forward three weeks, and suddenly the picture looks a lot rosier for Alan Tait's side.
Victories at Leeds and at home to Harlequins have eased pressure on the Falcons in terms of their top-flight status, and this Sunday the club has the small matter of a first final in seven years when they take on Gloucester in the LV= Cup at Franklin's Gardens.
Progress was secured at the Stoop thanks to a thrilling added-time try against Harlequins in last weekend's 21-20 semi-final success, although in-form Gloucester stand in the way of a place in the Heineken Cup next term.
"It's a big, big game for the club, and for the area, it's a big opportunity for us," captain James Hudson told BBC Newcastle.
"Gloucester have been there in three of the last three years, I think it's a different team to the one they've had in the last few years, and they're playing very well.
Gopperth confident in Falcons form
"If anything they'll be looking to carry on the way they're performing, rather than focus on what has gone in the past."
Falcons' last showpiece outing came in the 2004 Powergen Cup victory against Sale Sharks at Twickenham, when Phil Dowson's late try settled matters in Newcastle's favour.
One of the survivors of that success is Matt Thompson, whose experience in the front row has been crucial since the turn of the year, with 12 appearances in all competitions.
"I played in the 2004 cup final, I came off the bench with Hall [Charlton] and I think Micky [Young] came off the bench at the same time with us," Thompson said.
"This is the first game since then we've had an opportunity to win some silverware for this club, and the fans deserve it.
"They've followed us through thick and thin, and hopefully we can come back with some silverware to show off to them."
Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth's talents were rested in the early stages of the competition, but his accuracy with the boot could make him a key weapon in Sunday's encounter.
"Any opportunity to be in a final is going to be a great occasion. The whole squad and the whole club are looking forward to being part of it," Gopperth told BBC Look North.
"We didn't start well in the Premiership and we've been up and down all season, but to get a run of games under our belts playing good rugby makes it a little bit sweeter.
"I've been involved in six finals in my time, but I've only won one, but it's a new team, a new slate."
Players such as Hudson, Thompson and Gopperth will be crucial to the Falcons in terms of experience, particularly against a Gloucester side that has not lost since New Year's Day, although Newcastle will draw confidence from their 12-6 Premiership win over their opponents in November.
"They have [a powerful pack], but they'll be looking at us, thinking that we've done some damage in the pack, look at what we did against Leeds," Thompson added.
"The scrum was very dominant, and has been for quite a few weeks now, and our driving line-out has been doing well.
"We are obviously looking at them but they'll be looking at us just the same, and we have just as many threats as they do."
The biggest incentive aside from lifting a trophy is the lure of Heineken Cup rugby, and a first return to Europe's elite ranks since the 2004-05 campaign.
"Winning for the club would be enormous, for the area, for rugby in the north east," Hudson added.
"There's two things, there's winning the piece of silverware, the title, but there's also the carrot of being in the Heineken Cup next year, which would be huge for the club."
BBC Newcastle has full commentary of the LV=Cup final on 1458AM, DAB and online at bbc.co.uk/tyne
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