Richards upbeat despite defeat
Newcastle boss Dean Richards reckons his Falcons side are well ahead of where he wants them to be in their "five-year plan".
Despite defeats at Harlequins and at home to Saracens over the Christmas period, Newcastle are well on course to avoid the Premiership relegation dogfight.
They failed to pick up any points at Quins but came within a whisker of a draw against Saracens at Kingston Park before going down 25-23 and Richards said: "We have a five-year plan but on the evidence of this we look like we're two years ahead of that.
"I'm disappointed with the result but delighted with the effort.
"We're on the way to being a side who can compete with the top sides in (the) Premiership and we'll see again how far we've come when we go to Northampton next Friday.
"It's what you want, to test yourself against the best and see if you can match them.
"We thought we should have won at Quins and today we showed we have a formula that is working and we may be two years ahead of plan, but we have to keep on tweaking things."
Saracens' win keeps them in the running for the Premiership title and European Cup qualification and director of rugby Mark McCall was pleased with the result.
He said: "I felt we deserved the win and would have been gutted if we hadn't (won), but Newcastle must be the most improved side in the Premiership and they pushed us all the way.
"I think we may have gotten a little carried away in the closing stages and with chasing the fourth try bonus and we probably paid for that."
Saracens were very much in control when they led 25-13 with 10 minutes to go but two tries in five minutes from Chris Harris on his Premiership debut - the second with the last play of the game - gave Juan Pablo Socino the chance of drawing the match with the conversion.
But the Argentinian's kick from wide out shaved the post to leave Saracens victors by two points and the Falcons with just the losing bonus point.
"Chris Harris looks like our super-sub," added Richards. "I don't think he'll be going back to Rotherham on loan now."