Newcastle will find it tougher than they think, says Bristol Rugby's Glen Townson
GLEN Townson has warned his former Newcastle team-mates they are in for a difficult ride in the Championship, with every team being desperate to beat the relegated side.
Townson, who joined Bristol on loan from the Falcons last season and then permanently in the summer, is one of a host of former Newcastle players hoping to face his old club at the Memorial Stadium on Sunday.
And while he has detected, from his conversations with his former colleagues, that Newcastle sense the opportunity for a fresh beginning in the Championship, the 25-year-old lock believes the Falcons are in for a difficult season.
Their relegation was only confirmed in June, after London Welsh appealed against the decision not to allow them into the Premiership, and they are hotly tipped to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
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"I was speaking to a few of the boys up there before (their relegation) got announced – and they were pretty confident they were going to be in the Premiership this season," said Townson.
"But, speaking to them over pre-season, I think the general vibe there now is that it might be good for them; that coming down might give them a chance to rebuild. But I certainly don't think it's going to be as easy as they think it might be.
"The Championship has definitely got a lot more competitive over the last two or three years, and, with more teams now staking claims to go up, I think it's going to be a big season. Every opposition that Newcastle face will treat them as their cup final, so it will be tough."
How tough a game Bristol can give Dean Richards' side remains to be seen, particularly as last season's beaten semi-finalists go into Sunday's match without a host of frontline players.
But Townson is hoping he and his team-mates can draw on their experiences of a difficult pre-season campaign, which saw them travel to Agen, Narbonne and Munster, before a comfortable win against Clifton.
"I think it was vitally important that we had hard games in pre-season," said Townson. "It wouldn't have been beneficial for us to go and play four games against teams that are two leagues below us and put 50 or 60 points on them.
"We needed to be tested – and, even though we lost those games against Munster, Agen and Narbonne, we learnt a lot from them and hopefully we can take that into the season.
"Newcastle are a very strong team, so playing four poor games and then coming up against Newcastle, we could have been blown away. I think our preparation has been good and I think everyone is now looking forward to getting stuck in and having a go this weekend."
Bristol made a flying start to their Championship campaign last season, setting the pace from early on. But the general consensus this time around seems to be that the long view is significantly more important than getting off to a bright start.
Bristol's squad will undoubtedly be strengthened when players such as Jack Tovey, Jason Hobson, Bryan Rennie and Fautua Otto return from action – and there has been a lot of perspective knocking around at the club's Clifton RFC training base this week.
"If we lose on Sunday, it's not going to be the be-all and end-all of our season," said Townson. "No one likes losing, and we're going out there to put a performance together and hopefully win the game.
"If we do that, we'll take a lot of confidence from it, but if we lose, does that mean we're not then going to kick on and make the finals in May? No, it doesn't. It's very much about a progression.
"We laid a foundation last year and we're building on it at the minute. Hopefully, we can improve from week to week and get our performances right – that's the important thing."