While many of his team-mates have been in Six Nations action, Cumbrian Brett Connon has been helping Newcastle Falcons inch towards climbing off the bottom of the Gallagher Premiership table.

After they finished fourth in the Premiership last season, Falcons have found the going much tougher this time around and found themselves nine points adrift last month.

But back-to-back successes against Worcester (17-6) and Wasps (20-19) have closed the gap back down to three points, ahead of “The Big One” against Sale Sharks at St James’ Park this Saturday evening.

Former Carlisle Rugby Club man Connon was the star of the show last time out for Newcastle on March 9 - before having a free week last week - slotting the decisive 30-metre penalty with the last play of the contest, having been brought on to the field as Toby Flood’s replacement with three minutes of normal time left.

That sealed the win for Falcons, despite Carlisle-born Rob Miller scoring 14 of Wasps’ points at the Ricoh Arena.

“It was an interesting two or three minutes, it’s not really what you expect to have, but I was pretty buzzing after that,” admits fly-half Connon.

“After looking at the other scores that weekend, we were thinking ‘Thank god we put ourselves in that position’ because it could have been a quiet bus back if we hadn’t of won that game, with [fellow strugglers] Bristol getting the points that they did and Worcester getting a late try.

“It was a weird one because, normally, you want to get into the game but, obviously, there wasn’t enough time to do that. I guess how long the kick was didn’t really come into my head until after the game.

"Gary [Graham] was next to me and you can see him give me a quick nod, and a few others say ‘You’ve got this’ which is always nice. From there, I just tried to do what I do every week.

“Through the week, you do it so many times without thinking, so you’ve got to try to treat it like another one of them, but I guess sometimes the moment does mean that there is a bit more pressure.”

Despite this term’s struggles, 22-year-old Connon adds: “I think moods actually a lot better in camp than I guess people probably think it is.

"We don’t believe we should be down in 12th place, especially by nine points as I think it was at one point. 

“We had a tough run at the start, then we had the Champions Cup – which we had some good results in – but that doesn’t affect how we are doing in the Premiership. In our heads, we were confident we would get ourselves out the fight. It’s come quite late, but mood is high here.”

Having began his rugby career at Carlisle when he was six, Connon - the brother of current Carlisle players Max and Grant - went on to join Newcastle Falcons’ Academy at 15. 

In 2016, the former Austin Friars School student played for Ireland Under-20s in the final of the Junior World Championship, qualifying for Ireland through his father. Brett also played for Carlisle Cricket Club’s first-team at a young age.

Connon says he has been pleased with his progress this season, now getting more regular first-team action, having initially made his first-team debut in October 2016 in a European Challenge Cup tie at Ospreys.

He says: “I guess, people say, it’s been more a breakthrough year this year in some respects. A few years ago, I was more in and out but, this year, I have been lucky enough to get more of a run which has been great. Seeing people like Gary Graham and Chris Harris has given me a lot of confidence. 

“If you look at them now, they are both two of the major players in our starting XV, and they’re both playing for Scotland.

"It’s always nice to see that, especially because they both played with my brothers at a younger age. So, I have known them from a long time, and I have always keep an eye on their careers as well as focusing on mine.”

And despite being surrounded by internationals like Graham, Harris, Wilson, Flood, Tevita Cavubati, Nemani Nagusa and Rodney Ah You, Connon admits it’s great to be trusted to deliver in the pressure moments for Falcons. 

“I was lucky enough to get on against Northampton earlier in the season [in a 16-14 win in December] and Toby Flood gave me the confidence by saying if you think you can score a penalty from here, have a go and back yourself,” he says.

“From there, I have been slowly progressing and, hopefully, it doesn’t take until the 79th or the 82nd minute to get these chances to score and win the game every week. Hopefully, it’s done before then. 

“But if I’m trusted to do it, I’m hoping I can keep doing it for a lot longer.”

Connon is, of course, surrounded by Cumbrians at Kingston Park. The likes of fellow former Carlisle players Chris Harris and Gary Graham, as well as Mark Wilson who started his career at Penrith, are among his team-mates.

He concedes: “I imagine it was very tough for the likes of Gary Graham, Chris Harris and other people [who were on international duty during the Six Nations].

"If they weren’t playing for their country on the Saturday, they were back with us by the Wednesday or Thursday.

“It’s two completely different environments. But they’re invaluable to us, they come straight in to play and they are crucial players for us, especially at this time with us down the bottom end.

“It gives us a massive boost but, at the end of the day, we want them playing for Scotland and playing for England.”

Connon also admits he keeps an eye out for Carlisle’s results with the Warwick Road outfit top of North One West.

“Hopefully, in a few weeks, Carlisle will have their promotion confirmed,” says Connon on his two brothers’ title bid.

“[With Falcons] if we can get ourselves away from the last game of the season being a decider, [that’ll be great].

"The Bristol game will be a massive game at home [on May 18]. But we have the game against Sale at St James’ Park this weekend which we are massively targeting.

"We have Gloucester away, Leicester at home, so hopefully, we can be safe before the last few games of the season.”