Among the great number 8s in the world, Dean Richard has 48 England and six Lions caps to his name as well as a hugely impressive coaching CV. In his time at the Leicester Tigers, the club won no less than four consecutive Premiership titles, and he brought Harlequins up into the Premiership in 2005-06 at the first time of asking.
Following a three year layoff due to his Bloodgate ban, Richards has replicated the achievement of promotion with the Newcastle Falcons, having joined the club as Director of Rugby in August 2012. The Falcons won promotion in late May with a 49-33 aggregate win over the Bedford Blues.
Take The Three sat down with ‘Deano’ at the launch of the fixture list for the new season to talk about his aspirations for the team, now they’ve been reinstated in the top flight after two years in the RFU Championship…
Take The Three: Dean, first of all, what won’t you miss about the Championship?
Dean Richards: The travelling, some of the venues. Ultimately it’s the Championship as opposed to the Premiership. The Premiership has an aura to it which the Championship doesn’t. There’s a kudos and players are in the spotlight. For those with the aspirations to play international rugby, it’s a stepping stone away from that.
TTT: How much were you keeping your eye on the Premiership throughout last year?
DR: You never know that you’re going to go up but you always keep one eye on the Premiership. In the office there’s constantly conversation about either players or teams; there’s constant dialogue. But then you’re a rugby guy, so you’re keeping your eye on every competition as much as you can: the Super 15, Top 14 in France and everything else.
TTT: How are preparations going for the new season?
DR: If you look at physical preparation, the rugby preparation or even just recruitment, and then you look at the business side of things with season ticket sales, sponsorship and everything else, it doesn’t give the club much of a chance to prepare for the Premiership. So it is difficult.
TTT: Is that why Championship sides have struggled when making the step up?
DR: Having to go through the purgatory of the play offs at the end makes [promotion] even more difficult and then having only three weeks off isn’t ideal for us. But then there’s a certain amount of momentum that we’ll be able to take into the new season and in some respects it may help the guys in terms of keeping them focused.
I thought London Welsh did extremely well in the first few months [last season] but dipped because they didn’t have the strength in depth that they could have, having not been able to recruit properly, and as a consequence it came back to haunt them later in the season.
TTT: Bearing your shorter preparation time in mind, how high are you aiming in the table? Would 11th place be satisfactory?
DR: In some ways 11th place wouldn’t be a success. You want to be as high up the table as you possibly can but it depends how the season unfolds. You always have ambitions to get to the top. Provided we are where we want to be at the end of the year, which is not last, we’ll be happy but the aim will be to be as high up the league as possible. Ideally we’ll be first but that may not come in the first year!”
TTT: Is building a solid foundation for the club at Newcastle your biggest challenge to date?
DR: Actually I don’t know, I haven’t done it yet! But there’s no doubt about it, the Academy at Newcastle hasn’t functioned probably as it should do up until about a year ago when Mark Laycock [Academy Manager] and Jimmy Ponton [Academy Coach] came in and they’ve turned it around. They’ve done exceptionally well and this year we had Scott Wilson playing for England U20s, who were outstanding in the World Cup. There’s a host of youngsters that are going to start coming through.
TTT: Do you think you have the resources in terms of player base?
DR: Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria is a massive area and if you look at England sides over the years and players that have come from that area, it gives you an idea of the quality of players and the base of junior clubs. So I think that, provided people are afforded the opportunity, it’s a no-brainer – it should work.
TTT: How difficult is it to turn Newcastle into a similarly top-of-the-league side like Harlequins?
DR: Look, we’ll just try our hardest and see what happens really. There are a lot of quality players but we’ll see how the season unfolds. It’s a different challenge because geographically you’re an outpost. Everyone is saying it’s going to be an incredibly difficult Premiership this year but we want to make sure Newcastle is always a very difficult place to go and play and make sure there are no easy points up there.
TTT: But given that location, is it quite easy to work outside of the spotlight?
Yes that’s been nice for the last year! Certainly we don’t get the visits from the media that other clubs do because of access up there but you take the rough with the smooth as that has its own pros and cons.