Dean Richards says Newcastle Falcons’ billing as relegation favourites is neither motivating nor annoying them ahead of the new Aviva Premiership season.
Almost every one of the major bookmakers has the RFU Championship winners installed as shortest price to finish bottom, but for Newcastle’s director of rugby it is a storyline he is losing no sleep over
“I have been there before, and heard the same old stuff,” said Richards, whose side are at home to Irish province Connacht in Saturday’s pre-season outing.
“It doesn’t faze or bother me, it is just something I dismiss. I think that if people were genuinely rugby enthusiasts and knew the game well, they would realise we are not actually a bad side on paper.”
Relegated a year ago and promoted at the first attempt, stability is one of the Falcons’ many assets this season after a summer of targeted recruitment which leaves the bulk of last year’s side still in place.
Scottish internationals Mike Blair, Scott Lawson and Phil Godman are among the group coming in and, while Richards was understandably keen not to put a number on it, the former Leicester and Harlequins boss is hoping to do more than tread water in his first season back in the big time.
“People would probably get the wrong idea if I came out and said our ambition was to stay up, and it is not just that,” said the former England and Lions back-rower, whose side drew last week’s pre-season opener with Bath 21-21.
“Clearly I do want us to stay up, and what I don’t want is for us to be down there near the bottom fighting it out. I want us to be a little bit higher up the ladder than that, but my goal is always the same, to win every game and be as high up the league as we possibly can be.”
Refusing to accept second-best billing, even against the title contenders, Richards added: “You see some games, and teams look as if they have conceded the match before it has even kicked off.
“I have never approached anything like that, and all that I ask is that we are as competitive as we can be. From there we will see how we get on, but the goal is just to give it absolutely everything.”
Pouring cold water on the logic that a season in the Championship will have done them good, the former Leicester and Harlequins boss said: “It is never easy when you finish the season so late, and it is pretty well documented I’m not a fan of the Championship schedule.
“We have got a pretty balanced side here, though, with a wealth of experience, and a number of quality young guys coming through. Those lads really complement the older heads around the place, and it seems a nice blend.”
Targeting gradual improvement for the time being, that does not come at the expense of a bigger picture which remains firmly imprinted on the director of rugby’s mind.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the changes now from when I arrived have been absolutely massive,” he said, having restructured the club’s coaching team and making his own mark on the transfer front. “The Premiership has changed since I was last there, as you would expect. Everything evolves, just in sport as it does in life. There will be more changes for the Falcons over the next two, three and four years, but all for the better of the club.
“That means having a squad which is constantly evolving, with youth coming through to replace experienced guys going out at the top – having a club where people want to stay, and which people on the outside want to join.
“It is all about getting us in a position whereby we are constantly up there around the top of the table, fighting not only to stay there but to get some silverware.”