Coaches prepared for weekend

Although 10th-placed Newcastle are seven points above bottom club Northampton and six clear of Worcester, their away form - six successive defeats - has pinned them in the danger zone. [more]

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Although 10th-placed Newcastle are seven points above bottom club Northampton and six clear of Worcester, their away form – six successive defeats – has pinned them in the danger zone.

Gloucester, in contrast, look poised for a home play-off tie in early May, and they have not suffered a Premiership home defeat this term.

Falcons rugby director John Fletcher said: "It is going to be a good test because Gloucester are playing some super rugby at the moment. They play with ambition, and they are a side I look forward to watching whenever they are on television.

"Playing against a side like that suits us. We want teams to take us on by playing rugby, and Gloucester are certainly capable of doing that with the exceptional balance they have in their side.

"We are under no illusions where we are as a side. We are 10th, and we have to win games to stay up.

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"That is the reality of the situation – we are not trying to hide from it or dress it up.

"We are learning as a side and, with a lot of players in their early 20s, we are only going to get better.

"I knew at the start of the season we were going to have to take some bloody noses with where this group of players is in its development but, medium to long-term, I think we are in fantastic shape."

Brian Smith has called for his London Irish players to display "control and courage" tonight when they target a victory that would confirm them as major play-off contenders.

Irish could leap from sixth to third if they claim a bonus-point success against Madejski Stadium visitors Saracens.

Unbeaten at home in Premiership action since mid-November, Irish are building towards securing a title play-off place for the second successive season.

Irish have raced out of the Premiership’s midtable pack through victories over Bath, Sale, Newcastle, Bristol and Wasps, but Saracens – beaten once in six league games – also have designs on third position at fading Bristol’s expense.

"Careful management of our playing resources is essential at this time, so there has only been light training for the squad this week," said Exiles rugby director Smith, who has made five changes from Sunday’s punishing 16-13 success against Wasps.

"We played with confidence and control and courage last Sunday, and more of the same will now be needed.

"Wherever you look in the Saracens squad, there is real class, from full-back through the backs to the tight-five and back-row, and their consistency over recent months has seen them move to fourth place in the league."

Sunday’s Premiership action is at the Memorial Stadium, where Bristol entertain Northampton following four successive league defeats.

Bristol head coach Richard Hill rested several key personnel against Saracens last weekend – his team lost 36-5 – but he said: "I have no regrets about the team I fielded last week.

"At the end of the day, we are still third. We’ve got ourselves into this position, and we are set up where we want to be.

"We’ve got the best run-in of all the top six clubs, and it is just a question now of whether we are good enough to win at least two of the remaining games to stay in the top four."

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