Assuming that all works out as it should and Bristol win the RFU Championship at the end of this month, Newcastle will be relegated for the first time in their history. A season that started so poorly looked set to finish on a high after the recruitment of Gary Gold to replace Alan Tait, but ultimately the Falcons have come up short.
Newcastle were the first side to win the Premiership when it was sponsored by Allied Dunbar back in 1998, but recent seasons have been dominated by battling at the bottom. To have finished one point away from safety is a testament to the hard work put in by Gold, John Wells and Mike Ford over the recent months given where they were at Christmas, with Semore Kurdi’s investment and faith in the club almost paying off.
What is so important for the Falcons however is that despite their relegation, the future is far from bleak. Kurdi has pledged to stick with the club despite them dropping down for at least one more season, supporting them despite their reduced income due to loss of television funding and European rugby. In Kurdi, Newcastle have the kind of an investor that their relegation rivals Wasps are desperate for.
With the Falcons financial clout has come the acquisition of Dean Richards for the new season. Losing Gold is a shame after the good work he has done, but in Richards the Falcons have a Director of Rugby who has taken a club from the Championship to the Heineken Cup. His stint with Harlequins may have ended in acrimony, but with his time served he will come in over the summer and begin moulding his squad for what will be a tough year in England’s second tier.
The good news for Richards is that many of the current Falcons squad will not be jumping ship. There is a need to strengthen their scrum and lineout, but Ally Hogg, Mark Wilson, Jimmy Gopperth, James Hudson and many more have all recently signed new deals, not dependent on Premiership survival, offering Richards plenty of quality to work with. With the experienced names of Rory Lawson, Michael Lipman and former Falcon Ben Woods all linked with the club as well over the weekend, the Falcons may even become a stronger outfit than the one going down.
Whilst the future of London Wasps would have been in serious doubt following relegation, Newcastle’s appears promising. They have an opportunity to bond a squad together in a fierce league much in the same manner as Harlequins and Northampton have done in years gone by, rather than disappear like Rotherham and possibly Leeds. Relegation will sting, but not for long.
by Ben Coles