NEWCASTLE defied pre-season predictions last season by finishing in the Premiership’s top-four and now former England fly-half Toby Flood insists the Falcons are ready to kick on yet again.

Boss Dean Richards has had a productive summer, recruiting the likes of George McGuigan and Logovi’i Mulipola from Leicester Tigers and Johnny Williams from London Irish to add to what is already a hugely talented squad.

While the likes of long-term injury victims David Wilson and Micky Young have returned to full fitness following extensive lay-offs – and Flood is convinced the new look Falcons can challenge for the play-off places again.

Richards’ men have picked up a useful habit of edging narrow encounters in the Premiership and Flood believes the chemistry in the squad and newly added dynamism will drive Newcastle on to greater success.

“Last season went very well for us,” said Flood, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, the longstanding supporter of Premiership Rugby. With over a decade of support for the game at all levels; grassroots to elite, Land Rover truly understands and shares rugby's values.

“The season before though we finished eighth and I think the guys felt as though they had left a couple of chances out there to go and finish a bit higher.

“We felt like we had left a couple of inches out there to maybe go and get Champions Cup Rugby a year earlier by finishing sixth or seventh.

“Last season I think we sneaked a couple of results that maybe we didn’t deserve. The games like against Saracens that we were really fired up for or Northampton at home went well, but the difference was sneaking a result at somewhere like Gloucester.

“We know the onus is on us to carry on and keep improving and that may mean we don’t finish top four but we’re not sitting here putting targets on where we will finish.

“We have a good squad now and I think that confidence always plays a very big part in rugby and sport generally.

“Over the last two years we have started to win games where people had previously written us off.

“That give us the confidence to think we now have the squad and the ability to go and win games and finish teams off.”

Flood highlighted the increased competition for places created by the arrival of new faces in the North East this summer and the returning injured cast-list had fired the Falcons on to new heights in pre-season.

The former Leicester Tiger has been impressed with what he has seen so far and believes the new arrivals will add a differing dimension to how Newcastle play next season.

Richards has been busy in the transfer market with Tom Arscott, Pedro Bettencourt, Connor Collett, Rob Farrar, Guy Graham, Josh Hodge, Tom Marshall, Will Montgomery, McGuigan, Mulipola, Paul Mullen, Nemani Nagusa, Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, Morgan Passman and Williams all arriving.

And Flood hailed their impact on the squad and how they have improved standards across the board.

“George (McGuigan) has come back from Leicester having previously left a couple of years ago, the boys know him very well and so he’s a nice easy fit for the squad,” said Flood.

“Mulipola I know from my time at Leicester and he’s a very good player and of course he has played with Vereniki Goneva previously as well.

“Williams looks very good and then we also have a couple of guys who have had long-term injuries, the likes of Micky Young who looked good at the backend of last season. They can really make their mark this time around.

“The guys have come in and done really well, new additions always give you a big of impetus and help to kick things on.

“There’s always a feeling of what do they know that I don’t, what can they do that I can’t and that competitions really drives everyone forward together.

“Johnny and Mulipola bring physicality and that ability to drive us forward, George brings experience from that top-end level.

“We’re really looking forward to getting those guys out on the field and seeing how they can help us improve, while the likes of David Wilson, who has 40-plus England caps, was injured all of last season and he can really bring additional benefit to the team.”

First up for Newcastle is last season’s Premiership champions Saracens and Flood is relishing the encounter.

“We’re not worried about playing Saracens first up, you know what you’re going to get from them,” he added. “They will be hugely well organised, well prepared, up for the fight, they won’t let you steal a result that’s for sure.

“They’re a good team and it’s a great way of testing yourself. I was talking to other players and you don’t know where you’re out just yet after pre-season.

“You feel good and ready to go but you don’t really know and so Saracens will let us know where we are at and what we need to do to keep improving as a team.”

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