Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, has a look at a revolution in Newcastle to shut up one of his pals and worries that Wales might have a genius in their midst.
One of RugbySpy’s oldest mates decamped and moved up north, from London, a few years ago and after a couple of seasons watching the goings on at Newcastle, with his son, Tim has finally gone properly native.
He now seems to be more of a Geordie than a cross between Paul Gascoigne, Jill Halfpenny and Dennis, the bloke who ran the gang on the building site, in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. But rugby in the North East has got something to shout about now.
The businessman Semore Kurdi has been financially involved in the club since 2010 and we reckon he might just have backed a winner.
We reported a while back that Newcastle will stage the Champions Cup final in 2019 and while they might not have a team in the showpiece game the Falcons should at least get a crack at it after too long playing in Europe’s second tier.
Most Monday mornings we get a call from Tim complaining that the national press have not given enough coverage to Newcastle and the quiet revolution that is going on at Kingston Park led by the great Dean Richards.
You know Richards – brilliant No.8, won the lot as boss of Leicester and then started the Harlequins evolution that ended up with them winning the league in 2012.
If things carry on like they are they at Newcastle they will be putting the ‘House Full’ signs up for the media. The Falcons are flying and they are only going to fly higher.
A 64-7 win over the mighty Enisei-STM, of Siberia, might not be much to write home about but that Challenge Cup victory was Newcastle’s seventh on the spin in all competitions, and fifth out of five in Europe.
That sequence includes victories over Exeter and Harlequins in the Premiership and they are five from five in the Challenge Cup after beating the Dragons and Bordeaux-Begles home and away. And things should only get better for Richards’ mob in the next few weeks.
They are currently sixth in the Premiership and can look forward, realistically, to their best finish in the league since a team containing the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Rob Andrew, Alan Tait, Doddie Weir and Inga Tuigamala won the whole shooting match in 1998.
That title was built on the back of Sir John Hall’s millions. He had visions of turning Newcastle into some kind of sporting super city with all-conquering football, rugby union, basketball and ice hockey teams all under one banner.
That didn’t quite happen and Hall got shot of the club in 1999 to Dave Thompson and won the Cup in 2001 and 2004. In between times they churned out players like Dave Walder, Toby Flood, Mat Tait and, when he was fit, they had St Jonny. But they never cut it in the league again.
Since Richards took over as director of rugby in 2012, after his over-zealous three-year ban for the Harlequins Bloodgate shambles, Newcastle have won promotion from the Championship and finished 11th, 11th, 11th and eighth in the Premiership.
They will be a lot higher this time around and it would not be the biggest surprise down in the Bigg Market, since someone wore a jumper out at night in December, if they made the top four.
And here is why…..
Eddie Jones names England’s Six Nations squad this week and it is highly unlikely to be stacked full of blokes from Kingston Park. At his most recent training camp in Brighton, over the New Year, the only Newcastle representative was Gary Graham the open side flanker.
On the Argentina tour last summer the only Newcastle representative was Mark Wilson, another back rower, and boy we have never seen a man so pleased to be in an England environment. You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. But apart from that Jones has largely ignored the boys from the land of Alan Shearer.
Richards always bangs the drum for his players to get some recognition from England but he wouldn’t be human if he didn’t have a smile to himself about the ammunition he has got for the next couple of months.
Some clubs will lose five or six players when the Six Nations kicks off. They will be away from the bread-and-butter stuff from the time England go to Portugal on 21 January, for a training camp, to the end of the tournament which, for England, finishes against Ireland on 17 March.
Ludicrously, the Premiership continues when the big dogs are off. So Newcastle will have league matches against Saracens, Bath, Harlequins and Gloucester, plus a bit of Anglo-Welsh business when there are some very big dogs away.
It is bonkers but that is the way of the world and Premiership Rugby will argue that this is the reason we have the play-offs. They are supposed to balance out the absence of international players during this period, and the autumn, but we have banged that drum for too long and no-one has taken any notice.
Whatever. But out of Newcastle’s opponents when the Six Nations lads are away the only one who won’t be decimated by Test call-ups is Gloucester. Richards will fancy his chances of nicking at least 12 points out of those four games.
And so he should.
There are some bloody good players up at Kingston Park – just check out this little lot.
You all know about Toby Flood who played 60 times for England and returned home this season after stints with Leicester and Toulouse. But what about Callum Chick, Will Welch, Scott, David and Mark Wilson, Micky Young, Will Witty and Alex Tait? They mostly hail from close to Newcastle, are all English qualified and all likely to be surplus to Jones’ requirements in the foreseeable.
And although midfielder Chris Harris and prop Jon Welsh might get the tap on the shoulder from Scotland for the Six Nations that is about it.
As Walder, now an innovative head coach at the club, told The Times recently, “I’m from Newcastle myself and we’re very passionate people. I’m a firm believer that sport in Newcastle is about entertainment, first and foremost. When they go and watch football, they expect to be entertained, you only have to see what Kevin Keegan achieved to realise that.
“But people round here also want to see their own, wearing the shirt with pride. They want to believe that the next generation, their own children, can follow in these players’ footsteps. I think we’re seeing that again now.”
And chuck in some high quality foreign players and you don’t have to be a fortune teller to know that the Falcons could be bang in contention come the end of the season.
Vereniki Goneva, Nili Latu, Sinoti Sinoti, Juan Pablo Socino and Sonatane Takulua are no one’s idea of a group of mercenaries here for a fast buck. They are putting shifts in every week and this team is going places.
So Kingston Park is going to be seeing a lot more of the press boys and you will be hearing a lot more about them. Maybe that will encourage Tim to put a sock in it and give us some peace on a Monday morning.
The Scarlets kicked off a torrid weekend for English clubs in the Champions Cup by taking Bath to school in their 35-17 win at the Rec on Friday. The Welsh side really played some rugby.
Then Harlequins, already out, beat Wasps who are as good as out, Northampton managed to beat Clermont but it was about three months too late. Leicester got humped 39-0 by Castres and Saracens drew with Ospreys. And worst of all Billy Vunipola broke his arm.
Exeter flew the flag for the Premiership but this week’s Little Englander award goes to RugbySpy itself. We were watching the Bath game on the goggle and one thought came flashing through our mind as the hosts at the Rec were repeatedly cut to pieces.
What the hell would happen if Wales woke up to the fact that Stephen Jones, the former Wales fly-half and now coaching the backs at the Scarlets, is a bit of a genius?
And what would happen if Warren Gatland gave him a gig at Test level. From this Little Englander’s point of view it does not bear thinking about.
Jones won 110 caps, for Wales and the British & Irish Lions, mostly as a thinking man’s fly-half. He had stints at club level with the Scarlets, Clermont and Wasps and has been around the block. He has clearly picked up a thing or two as well on his travels.
Some of the stuff his lads produced on Friday night was breathtaking. Offloads hitting their intended recipients and the ball being kept alive non-stop, it was the best display of the Champions Cup by any team so far in the five rounds. Bath are no mugs really but they were properly mugged off.
Just don’t tell Gatland. Please…………..