Alec Hepburn says he and his Exeter Chiefs team-mates must use their opening day win over defending Gallagher Premiership champions, Leicester Tigers, as the initial building block for their season ahead.
The Chiefs kicked off the new campaign in style, defeating the Tigers 24-20 at Sandy Park, thanks to a last-gasp score from prop Patrick Schickerling.
It was the perfect intro for Rob Baxter’s side, who are now readying themselves for this Sunday’s trip to Worcester Warriors.
For Hepburn, the victory was merely a start and he insists “the best is still to come” from the Chiefs, who are looking to bounce back after missing out on a play-off spot last season for the first time in six years.
“It’s a building block, but we don’t want to get too wrapped up on things,” said the England international. “Leicester have had a shorter pre-season than us, so they may be a little under-cooked, but for a first game, it was a good result and we’ll take it.
“Now, we’ve got to use it to build for the rest of the season because the best is still to come.”
With Worcester next on the agenda, Hepburn and the Chiefs will be mindful of the fact that the Midlanders have themselves endured a sticky few months, where their very existence has come under close scrutiny.
“We’ve already started talking about Worcester,” said Hepburn. “We lost to them up there last season and we lost other close games as well, so I think our focus levels will be pretty high for the weekend.”
Certainly, focus and hard work have been the order of the day for the Chiefs during the summer, one in which they were put through a rigorous pre-season programme.
“I can safely say, that’s the toughest pre-season I’ve ever done,” admitted Hepburn. “Albeit tough, it was all done in good spirit and has put us in a great place. That said, the cross-heirs have always been on the Leicester game; we’ve had this on our mind for a while and I think it showed. We had talked a lot about Leicester and doing something special, which is what we did.
“You could a lot of emotion pour out of that game, especially at the end, but we wanted to get off on the right foot.”
Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.