JERSEY boys v Geordie boys, Jersey shore v Geordie shore; you can label it how you like, but for Alex Tait today will always be the day he became a Newcastle Falcons centurion.
WITH the passing of time the memory fades, so the theory goes, and at the ripe old age of 24 Alex Tait looks in the air and searches for a second when asked to recall his first senior steps in a Newcastle shirt.
“It was at Gloucester – a nice easy one – he jokes,” remembering the day he crossed the white line as a fully-fledged Falcon. “We had a lot of boys away with the Six Nations so I got given a start. It went all right, I think.”
Midway through the next question the County Durham native’s mind clicks again into gear, engaging total recall as his train of thought reverts back to his previous answer.
“Wait . . . no, it wasn’t Gloucester at all, was it? Ah, got it. Spain. We were playing the Spanish champions, Cetransa El Salvador, in Valladolid. I scored a hat-trick playing in the same team as my brother, and he wasn’t happy about it!”
The brother in question is Mathew Tait, one-time blue-eyed boy of the English game whose career has sadly slowed down to a stroll since his mid-20s after a string of injuries. The early part of Alex’s rugby journey was inevitably always weighted against the progress of his sibling, but the two are cut from distinctly different cloth.
The junior partner, considerably more outgoing and direct to his elder’s introvert persona and silky running, has ploughed a fair old furrow of his own and has deservedly put brotherly comparisons to the back of people’s minds.
Returning to the rout in northern Spain which introduced him to the limelight in early 2008, Tait says: “On the bus back from the game I had to sing three songs for the lads, rather than the usual one that you have to do on your debut.
“I went through the full repertoire of Eagle-Eye Cherry, followed by the English and Scottish national anthems (he qualifies for both countries) before I got booed off the microphone by the entire bus!”
Such jovial asides do not even begin to mask his sincere honour at reaching a century for the club when they trot out in the Channel islands this afternoon, saying: “I have no idea where 100 games has gone, to be honest.
“In fairness, I knew I was somewhere in and around that area with the number of years I have been at the club, although factoring in a couple of injuries I thought it might have been a little way away yet. I am really pleased and honoured that it has come, and to have made 100 appearances for my home club is really special.
“I used to come here as a fan to watch the games when they had the old scaffolding stands and the portaloos, and it really inspired me to want to play for the Falcons. I can’t believe how quickly it has all happened, but I am always grateful for the opportunity the Falcons have given me.”
A wise old goat despite only being on the planet less than two-and-a-half decades, Tait’s six seasons in black can almost be measured in dog years, such has been the drama, struggle, despair, rebirth and now hope. Bumbling along as a bottom-four Premiership presence, last season’s relegation and this year’s emphatic surge back to the big time mark what is sure to be a notable period when the history of this great club is written.
“It is a lot different at the moment, probably because we are winning every game,” he says, nine from nine in the league, undefeated in the cup and last week beating a whole country by outgunning the Tongan national team.
“We are scoring lots of tries, everyone is upbeat and long may it continue. Hopefully we can go back to the Premiership and carry it on next season, because that winning feeling is something you just want more of.
“There wasn’t a panic when we got relegated, and I genuinely mean that because I know it will sound strange to some people. Obviously we were massively disappointed and it felt like the end of the world because no team wants to go down a division, but the main thing Gary Gold said before the final game at Wasps was that the club was in good shape no matter which way the day went.
“Semore Kurdi as our owner has now brought stability at the top with all the investment he has made, by which I don’t just mean money, I mean personnel and philosophy. Dean Richards as director of rugby is the man to lead us back to the promised land, and it is a really positive time for us.” But really, that age thing.
“I still technically qualify as a ‘young kid’ because for the club Christmas party I am in the 24-and-under bracket,” he jokes, sporting a blond handlebar ’tache that Hulk Hogan would be proud of, all in the name of charity.
“It is a pretty pathetic Movember effort, in fairness, and I think a stiff breeze would blow it off my face. But the Christmas party is clearly the official measurement of age. Everyone knows that, but some of the boys can’t believe it because my face is like a leather bag!”