NEWCASTLE Falcons will have to stage the greatest of escapes if they are to survive on the final weekend of the Aviva Premiership season, but head coach Gary Gold is happy just to have an opportunity of avoiding relegation.
Falcons travel to London Wasps on May 5 knowing one of the two clubs will finish bottom of the table and occupy the sole relegation place.
Having lost 9-3 to Saracens on Friday evening, Newcastle could have been relegated on Saturday afternoon, but Wasps slipped to a 17-12 defeat at Bath. However, the London club's losing bonus point means they boast a four-point advantage ahead of the two sides' showdown at Adams Park.
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In order to survive, Falcons must either score four tries or more and beat Wasps by at least eight points, thereby denying their opponents a losing bonus point, or secure victory by at least 24 points, a result that would enable them to finish ahead of Wasps on points difference.
Given that it is two-and-a-half years since Newcastle scored four tries in a Premiership fixture, and that their backline has been deprived of the services of Jeremy Manning, Luke Fielden and Alex Tait through injury, the North-Easterners will head south with a significant mountain to climb.
But given that they were 12 points adrift of safety when Gold arrived to replace Alan Tait in January, the situation could have been an awful lot worse.
“When I came in, if you'd said we could be going to Wasps on the last weekend with a chance of staying up, I'd have taken that,” said Gold, who will step down after the Wasps game, with Newcastle already having confirmed the appointment of former Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards.
“We were 12 points behind at that stage, and we've gradually managed to close the gap. We're disappointed that we're not a little bit closer. We should have got a result against Bath and we're very disappointed that we didn't come away from Worcester with a bonus point.
“Those points would have left us a bit closer. But I'll take going down to Wasps with the chance of a win being good enough to stay in the Premiership.”
There could yet be a second escape route for Falcons, as three of the four clubs involved in the Championship play-offs are not believed to meet the standards required to take a place in the Premiership.
The favourites Bristol are definitely able to achieve promotion, but there are doubts over whether London Welsh, Bedford and Cornish Pirates will be eligible to play in the Premiership if they finish the season as play-off winners.