GARY GOLD has told his Newcastle Falcons players to embrace the challenge of survival and prove they are worthy of a place in the Aviva Premiership next season.

The Newcastle camp are preparing to continue their fight to avoid the drop when Sale Sharks head for Tyneside tonight (kick-off 8pm).

There are now just four matches remaining for the Falcons to preserve top-flight status and climb off bottom spot, which would preserve their place among the elite for a further year.

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However, with eight points separating them from 11th-placed Wasps, who host Gloucester on Sunday, the Falcons squad know they can ill-afford to lose another game tonight.

"Our destiny is not in our hands because if the teams above us win this weekend then obviously we will still be in the same situation," said Newcastle's rugby director Gold.

"But it is time for the boys to express themselves, and these challenges should be seen as exciting. We have said to the players that it is going to be a real test of character, and if this team can fight for their lives who knows what could happen."

Gold and his assistants - former England coaches John Wells and Mike Ford - have breathed new life into the Falcons' Premiership campaign since their arrival on Tyneside.

And with Dean Richards set to take over the reins next season there is a determination around Kingston Park to ensure the season ends on a high.

Gold, a South African, knows his reign will be short-lived after taking over following the departure of Alan Tait and is determined to do everything he can to keep the Falcons in the Premiership.

"The biggest most fundamental change since we came in is that we have raised the intensity of our training sessions in order to emulate a game situation," Gold said.

"In doing so we have gained the confidence to play against anyone, and it has worked. We went really close to beating (leaders) Harlequins. We beat London Irish, we were very unlucky against Bath and we got a good result against Sale in the LV Cup.

"The team has certainly turned a corner, but the question is, is there enough time to save ourselves? We have been brought in as a rescue squad, and we will do everything we can to give ourselves the best chance to stay up."

Rob Vickers returns to hooker following suspension while Tom Bedford replaces Alex Tait on the wing after confirmation he will miss the rest of the season with a broken cheekbone.

The hope among the Falcons squad is they can extend their unbeaten run at home to five matches, which would close the gap to Wasps to four points, at least temporarily.

FALCONS: Manning, Uys, Helleur, Fitzpatrick, Bedford, Gopperth, Stringer; Golding, Vickers, Murray, Swinson, Goode, Tu'ifua, Welch, Hogg. Replacements: Thompson, Shiels, Hall, Hudson, Balding, wilson, Chudley, Goosen.