Stay tuned for a more in-depth interview with Dean Richards to come in the next day or so but in the meantime here’s a brief preview of the first fixture of the new Premiership Rugby season, when Richards’ Newcastle host Bath…
Newly promoted Newcastle Falcons have the privilege of opening the Aviva Premiership season with the first Friday evening, 7:45pm kick-off slot, when they host Bath at Kingston Park on 6th September. After a three year layoff due to ‘Bloodgate’, Dean Richards was installed as Director of Rugby in August 2012 and led the side to promotion in his first season.
Speaking at the launch of the Premiership fixture list at the BT Tower, Dean insisted it wasn’t as easy as he made it seem:
“I think there’s a misconception that the Championship is an easy place to come out of but it’s actually a very difficult place to be. There are certainly four or five teams that could beat Premiership sides on their day.”
Looking ahead to being reinstated in the Premiership, he remains practical about the team’s aspirations:
“Historically obviously some teams have struggled when they’ve gone up but for us it’ll be about consistency throughout the year, making sure we perform as we want to perform.
Looking at the squad, Jimmy Gopperth has been the fulcrum of the Falcons play since replacing Jonny Wilkinson in 2009 and the leading points scorer in the Premiership in 2010/11 to boot (excuse the pun). The loss of him to Leinster will be a big blow to the north east side but the signing of young Rory Clegg from Harlequins could go some way to filling this hole. Clegg has been the unfortunate victim of playing second fiddle to the New Zealand fly-half pairing of Nick Evans and Ben Botica. Elsewhere Mike Blair comes in at scrum-half for fellow countryman Rory Lawson (who has had to retire through a chronic wrist injury) and London Irish hooker Scott Lawson (also Scottish but no relation to Rory) comes in to bolster the front row.
Deano will come up against his predecessor in that first fixture in Bath’s Director of Rugby, Gary Gold. The former Springbok Assistant Coach was previously Head Coach at Newcastle, so we’re in for a tasty clash. Gold said:
“It’s a massive privilege to open the season, especially to be the first game on BT Sport. It will be a tough start but one we’re really looking forward to.
“The Falcons are back where they belong after dominating the Championship hands down and Kingston Park is a great venue. Everyone knows how tough it is to play there, so we’re relishing the challenge. I predict this will be one of the toughest Premierships for a while.”
The Bath squad has seen significant change over the summer with the loss of key international players Lee Mears (retirement), Michael Claassens (Toulon), World Cup-winning fly-half Stephen Donald (Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Japan) and Dan Hipkiss (retirement). They have, however, filled these gaps with some big name signings including George Ford (Toby Flood’s understudy at Leicester), the highly experienced Peter Stringer, London Irish and England flyer Jonathan Joseph and the controversial Gavin Henson.
In round two, Bath come up against the Leicester Tigers. As if hosting the reigning Champions in their first home game wasn’t enough, it’s also the hundredth anniversary of the fixture. Gold is fully aware of the significance:
“The fixture is steeped in history and both our clubs are aware of this history and the rivalry. It’ll be nice to play Leicester at that time of year at the Rec, as [later in the season] it’s not the best surface to play on. It’s nice to be able to play such a good team at home so early on in the season.”
And even more aware of the Tigers’ strength:
“I hope the Leicester boys in the Lions squad enjoy a nice long celebration!”