NEWCASTLE FALCONS have taken some major steps forward this season – now director of rugby Dean Richards has challenged his players to cap their successful campaign with some long-awaited silverware.

Falcons are currently sitting in fourth position in the Aviva Premiership, with a chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup, and are still basking in the glow of last weekend’s historic outing in front of more than 30,000 fans at St James’ Park.

After a series of relegation battles in the last few years, the current campaign is set to be their most successful for more than a decade, but Richards accepts their progress will only really mean something once they deliver a trophy.

Falcons’ last major title saw them lift the Powergen Cup in 2004, and as they prepare for tomorrow’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final with French side Brive, Richards has urged his players not to let their good work over the last seven months go to waste.

“This is the business end of the year, and it’s the time I really loved as a player and still love as a coach,” said the Falcons boss. “It’s when you’re playing to get into semi-finals, finals, jockeying for those positions at the top of the league, and we’re right in that mix.

“The disappointment for me was that we let one slip at Exeter in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals, and I’m still smarting from that. We’ve now got a chance to put that right to some degree by reaching a European semi-final.”

Newcastle and Brive have locked horns regularly in the last few years, with both clubs boasting six wins apiece from their head-to-head matches, with one game having finished a draw.

Falcons have often gone into their meetings as underdogs, but with Brive currently engaged in a relegation battle in France’s Top 14, Richards’ side will start tomorrow’s quarter-final as strong favourites as they look to set up a last-four clash with either Gloucester or Connacht.

“It’s going to be another big game against a side with good players, regardless of their league position,” said Richards. “I think it will be really competitive. They’ve just changed their coaching set-up and with that often comes a change in direction. You get that bit of a backlash from the players in that scenario and they’ll be coming over here wanting to prove a point.

“Brive will want to go through to the semi-finals, as we do, and this is the only silverware available to them. They obviously have the goal of remaining in the Top 14, which they’ll have one eye on, but they’ll also be looking at us and trying to pick holes.”

Last weekend’s game at St James’ was a major success, with Toby Flood’s dramatic long-range penalty securing a 25-22 win over Northampton. However, as memorable as the occasion might have been, Richards does not want it to overshadow the rest of the season.

“There’s always a danger of guys getting wrapped up in last week and everything that went around it, but from my side the statement is that they better not be,” he said. “If I’m totally honest, I thought we took our eye off the ball a little bit down at Exeter in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-final, and they better not make that same mistake twice.

“It’s as simple as that, and I don’t think they will do. We’ve got a point to prove because we went down to Exeter with a really good team and we didn’t perform, and we can’t afford to make the same mistake twice.”

Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley, Tait, Harris, Matavesi, Kibirige, Flood, Stuart; Lockwood, Lawson, S Wilson, Green, Robinson, Burrows, Welch, Latu.

Replacements: Socino, Vickers, Davison, Witty, Chick, Hodgson, Radwan, Penny.