- Newcastle Falcons director of rugby looks to deliver to North East community
- “It’s about getting Newcastle back to being a place where there are big ambitions” – Richards
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Dean Richards loosens his vast shoulders and sets off unstoppably on an animated story. Wearing a wide grin, the Newcastle Falcons director of rugby is clearly thrilled to be bringing top-tier rugby back to one of the sport’s traditional hotbeds.
The intriguing anecdote that begins procedings is about Whitley Bay Rockcliff RFC. Back in 1892, the former Leicester Tigers and Harlequins boss eagerly explains, a fixture against the Barbarians drew a crowd of 9,000 and the small seafront club produced a handful of England internationals, including a captain in Ernest Taylor.
Barely 12 months after arriving at Kingston Park having served a much-maligned three-year coaching ban, Richards is thoroughly immersed in the North East’s culture and collectively grounded ethos. For a brief moment, he even adopts an unlikely impression of a tour guide.
“I absolutely love the area,” Richards smiles. “I compare it to when I was at Quins – in Twickenham, you need two hours to drive ten miles. In Northumberland, the same distance takes you ten minutes and, in that time, you take in some breath-taking scenery.
“There’s so much more to see and do – it’s amazing how many people come up here from other places and say how much they love it. It is colder, though. But all you have to do is put another layer of clothing on and you are fine.”
If this warm enthusiasm seems exaggerated, it is rapidly replaced by characteristic, considered realism when talk eventually turns to on-field matters.
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According to Richards, last term’s all-conquering Championship campaign – comprising just a solitary loss from 22 regular league ties before hard-fought play-off wins over two legs against Leeds Carnegie and Bedford Blues – will count for little if complacency creeps in.
As the man who was at the helm of Harlequins when they lost the first five matches following their own yo-yo summer in 2006, the 50 year-old is wise to the perils of promotion.
Although a balanced squad – boosted by canny new signings such as Saracens openside Andy Saull and ex-Scotland scrum half Mike Blair – have put together some encouraging showings in preseason, the step up will not be taken lightly.
“The Championship was a great learning curve for a lot of the boys in terms of forgetting a string of [Premiership] losses and feeling deflated. There is no doubt that we have found that winning feeling again.
“However, we can’t accept that it is going to carry on. Winning can lead you to a false sense of security. It will be equally as hard as the last season we were in the Premiership.
“There will be times we do well and times we do badly – in some, we might do very badly. The important thing will be how we accept that and move on. I’ve got confidence in this team and the talented youngsters coming through.
“I want to aim as high as possible, but I’m not putting a number on anything – what I will say to the players is that they have to aim for a consistency of performance throughout the season. That translates to success year-on-year.”
Ever mindful of the bigger picture, Richards is reluctant to place too much stock on results in isolation. As he pragmatically acknowledges, Newcastle could well be devastated by an electric Bath Rugby backline this Friday should Kyle Eastmond and co. click during the Aviva Premiership opener.
More central to this new regime is stability. Richards’ water-tight allegiance with forwards coach and former Welford Road ally John Wells is emblematic of the aim to deliver something sustainable. The selection of a young, local skipper in RGS Newcastle old-boy Will Welch is equally progressive.
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Time and patience have to be crucial virtues as Falcons re-join the elite. A repeat of the last time they went up –1997/8, which ended remarkably in Premiership glory for a side featuring Rob Andrew and a young Jonny Wilkinson – is highly unlikely.
That said, Richards knows how long that 15-year stretch must feel for the rugby-rich Tyne and Wear community. He believes his club’s prestigious surroundings deserve more.
“This isn’t about being flag-bearers,” Richards finishes. “It’s about getting Newcastle back to being a place where good rugby is played and there are big ambitions.
“To all intents and purposes, since we won [the Premiership], the ambition hasn’t quite been there in terms of financial support and infrastructure. For the first time in a long time, there's a framework which provides support for the players and the club as a whole that, hopefully, links through to the whole community.
“The history is there – head down into Durham and up to Northumberland. There are clubs like Blaydon, Tynedale and Consett. The Tait brothers [Mathew and Alex] started at Consett and Toby Flood played at Tynedale.
“Scratch the surface and you find that a massive rugby family up there with a passion for winning. If you’re competitive, the support and success will come.”