Newcastle’s relegation can be a success based on previous examples

After the furore surrounding London Welsh’s promotion over the last few days, it’s important to remember that for the club going down, Newcastle Falcons, relegation might not be such a bad thing after all. The Falcons confirmed this morning that they would not take the matter any further to the high court, thus deciding that they will play in the RFU Championship next season.

Naturally, dropping down to the league below comes at a financial cost. Worcester’s relegation back in 2010 saw them lose around £1.5 million in revenue, which comes down to lack of sponsorship for clubs in the Championship in comparison to the Aviva Premiership where Land Rover, QBE and of course Aviva themselves feature prominently. That’s before considering the loss of television revenue, a significant factor given the number of games shown by Sky and ESPN, and also a drop in matchday attendances due to an overall reduced number of matches without European competition along with the dip in interest due to the inability to watch the best players in the country on a weekly basis. Fewer fans means less merchandise sold and other factors that all total up.

The reason such an emphasis is placed on the financial side is down to the fact that according to recent years, the teams that keeps the majority of their squad intact when dropping down tend to bounce back the quickest. With less money available for salaries and contracts, players either have to bite the bullet and believe in the cause, or move on to allow the club more financial flexibility. Looking at the departures from Leeds last year – a total of 15 including Marco Wentzel, Steve Thompson, Kearnan Myall and James Craig – their chances of bouncing back were never going to be strong and so it proved with a 6th place finish overall and failing to reach the playoffs.

Newcastle however are slightly different. By and large they have retained the majority of the squad from last season, excluding Tim Swinson’s departure to Glasgow and Peter Stringer returning to Munster after the end of his loan. Thanks to the financial injection from Semore Kurdi, Alex Crockett, Andrew Higgins, Carlo Del Fava and Rory Lawson have all arrived at Kingston Park this summer along with four more new signings. Add into that the coaching staff led by Dean Richards and Newcastle’s odds of winning the Championship look a lot stronger.

Relegation over the last five years has proven to be the catalyst for Northampton reaching the Heineken Cup Final and Harlequins winning the Aviva Premiership. The hope for Newcastle will be that it can breathe life back into rugby in the North East.

Five Relegation Successes and Failures:

Rotherham Titans (2003/2004)

After winning three Championship titles in four years and being denied promotion in 2002, Rotherham returned to the Zurich Premiership only to loss all 22 of their matches in 2003/2004, seeing them relegated with just 3 points for the whole season. The nearest club to them, Leeds Tykes, finished on 37. Following the relegation, owner Mike Yarlett severed his ties with the club resulting in a frantic race by a consortium to save the club from extinction. The vast squad changes lead them to finish 8th in the Championship that season and they have stayed there since.

Relegated: 2004

Harlequins (2004/2005)

Relegated after narrowly missing out on a crucial win at the end of the 2005 season, Harlequins retained the majority of their squad including players such as Andrew Mehrtens, Will Greenwood, Ugo Monye and Andre Vos, leading them to 25 wins out of a possible 26 as well as scoring 1001 points, an average of around 40 per game. On returning to the Premiership they finished in 7th place and handed debuts to future England internationals Mike Brown, Jordan Turner-Hall, Danny Care, marking the beginning of the side that won the Aviva Premiership title in 2012.

Relegated: 2005
Promoted: 2006

Northampton Saints (2006/2007)

After going down on the final day of the season despite defeating London Irish at home, Northampton removed Paul Grayson from his position of Head Coach and installed Jim Mallinder as Director of Rugby with Dorian West as his assistant, a coaching team that would lead Northampton to the Heineken Cup Final in 2011. That summer also saw the arrival of Chris Ashton, Stephen Myler and James Downey at Franklin’s Gardens, with Saints going on to win all 30 of their matches in the Championship and Ashton scoring 41 tries including 6 against Launceston. On their return to the Premiership the following season, they finished 8th.

Relegated: 2007
Promoted: 2008

Bristol (2008/2009)

Bristol’s four year stint in the Premiership came to an end in 2009 after they failed to win more than two matches all season, picking up six losing bonus points along the way. They finished 17 points away from safety and Director of Rugby Richard Hill left the club at the end of the season. David Lemi, Joe El Abd, Shaun Perry, Dan Ward-Smith and Dave Attwood all left the club over the summer and since then despite finishing in 1st place in both 2010 and 2012, Bristol missed out on promotion to Exeter Chiefs and then London Welsh in the playoffs, with an 8th placed finish in between.

Relegated: 2009

Worcester Warriors (2009/2010)

After a six year stint in the Premiership which saw Worcester challenging frequently in both European and domestic cup competitions, the Warriors were relegated in 2010 after finishing 4 points behind 11th placed Sale Sharks. Coach Mike Ruddock resigned and was replaced by Richard Hill, with the club making plenty of promising signings including Andy Goode, Neil Best and Tom Arscott. They picked up 30 wins out of 31 during the regular season before defeating Cornish Pirates in the Play-off Final thanks to Goode’s boot and the strike power of Miles Benjamin and Marcel Gravey. On their return to the Premiership last season, they finished 10th, four points clear of safety.

Relegated: 2010
Promoted: 2011

by Ben Coles

6 thoughts on “Newcastle’s relegation can be a success based on previous examples

  1. I remember when the mighty Southland were relegated from the 1995 NPC First Division in New Zealand and had to play in the Second Division in 1996. It worked out for the best though because they won the Second Division and despite finishing last in 1997 (only just), they were allowed to stay in the First Division. While it took them several years to beat anyone other than Northland, it laid the foundation for a very successful stint where they made the semi-finals and won the Ranfurly Shield in 2009. Unfortunately last season they finished 7th in the Premiership by the narrowest of margins, but it isn’t as bad as in the past because they will still play crossover matches against the top teams. Here is hoping the mighty Stags return to the top flight again!

  2. I still believe to this day that Harlequins spending a year in the Championship was the making of them. Many of the young players Dean Richards was able to blood during that period were the same players that won the AP title in May. As Ben alluded to, it was almost a transition period, with the likes of Greenwood, Vos and Mehrtens helping introduce guys like Turner-Hall and Care etc. This was a similar case with Northampton.

    The problem I foresee with Newcastle however, is in supporter base. If you take the examples of Quins and Saints, both have a solid following in areas which have traditionally been rugby strongholds. I don’t think Newcastle have it in the same capacity as either of these two clubs and whilst there are many fans who will follow them in whatever league they play in, the casual supporter could fall by the wayside. Yes, I know Bristol have a strong fan base as well, but they had a high player turnover rate when they went down.

    Finally, Newcastle’s problem is a microcosm for rugby in the north of the country, and that could prove fatal. It’s a shame because regional spread is the a vital way to help the sport spread, but there simply isn’t the same support for it as there is in other areas of the country.

    I really want to be proved wrong here and see Newcastle rise from the ashes. But with the emergence of Cornish Pirates and several other Championship clubs expected over the next few years, I fear this could be the beginning of the end for Newcastle.

  3. Nice article, I’d never really considered these examples side-by-side before.

    What we have here is two clear examples of success (Quins/Saints) and two failures (Rotherham/Bristol). I think the jury is still out on Worcester, they might struggle next season. Most important lesson learned is that you have to come straight back up again, otherwise (like happened to Bristol), you lose the Premiership financial incentives and a heck of a lot of good players. Leeds are another example of this.

    I think Newcastle is a good club that has been allowed to stagnate – this is exactly what happened to Northampton. Speaking as a Saints fan, it hurt initially but we then spent a season soundly beating all who came before us. No matter what league you’re in, an unbeaten season feels pretty good. We used that momentum to propel us back up the premiership table, and now sit at the big boys’ table again. Hopefully Newcastle can do the same.

    Although we did play in the old-style ND1, when the winner of the league actually won the league… If there had been playoffs back then, then Plymouth Albion or some such probably would have come up in our place…

  4. I was thinking about this the other day. I can see nothing other than a Newcastle landslide in the Championship this year, alongside a London Welsh plummet in front of smallish and disinterested crowds in Oxford.

    I also think in 2 years time you will be able to add two other contrasting stories of success and failure to this, as Welsh will struggle off the back of a year in Oxford.

    Would relegation see them scampering back to a more intimate stadium and a fanbase who could be, to a certain extent, disenchanted at them “running off” to Oxford?

  5. Actually cant see any clubs posing us a problem on our way back up. Especially now with a good, proven director of rugby and the technical nous of a kiwi to use Jimmy Gopperth and co to their full potential. Newcastle came close to beating most of the top 5 teams last season, I’d like to see London Welsh, who are the best side in the championship hence their promotion, keep in touch with Tigers, Quins, Sarries. Then we’ll get a decent yard stick for the gulf in talent between the championship and premiership.

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