Dean Richards says his Newcastle Falcons young guns will be a year wiser after surviving their first season back in the Premiership.
The Falcons ended a difficult campaign second-bottom of the table and without a league win in more than six months, but their director of rugby can still see positives as he prepares for next term.
Richards said: “We knew it was going to be difficult. We didn’t know what league we were going to be in until May 29 thanks to the Championship play-offs, we had no time to prepare from a squad point of view, a conditioning point of view, and it is very much stacked against the team coming up.
“From that respect to stay up, and to know we were staying up with a week to go of the season, is a job well done.”
Well aware of the need for improvement as he reflected on where the Kingston Park club can make gains, Richards (pictured below) at least had the comfort of three wins from his side’s first four games in what was a flying start to the campaign.
He said: “You try and take each game as it comes but, looking at the season as a whole, there are points we missed throughout the year which we have got to be clinical enough to take.
“Obviously I want a lot more wins under our belt, which is a bit annoying and frustrating.
“But it has been a really good year in terms of learning about the side, about the Premiership.”
Having seen the progression of youngsters including George McGuigan, Zach Kibirige, Joel Hodgson, Dom Barrow and Scott Wilson among others, the Falcons boss is confident a turbulent campaign can be to their long-term benefit now they are safely through the other end.
“The fact we haven’t gone down stands us in good stead for next year, and losing four quality players to retirements along with all of the other factors has really challenged us in a lot of ways,” he said.
“I think the boys have come through really well. The youngsters will have learnt hugely for having had that pressure on them.
“You look at someone like George – who would have said this time last year that he would have come through in the way that he has?
“He has had the exposure to game-time, he has been involved in important matches and he will be a far better player for it.
“That hooker spot is going to have great competition next year with Rob Hawkins coming in, and don’t forget Nellie (David Nelson) who is in the wings and going to be a really good player.
“Next season might just be a year too soon for him, we shall see, but the year after that or maybe in two he will be right up there competing with these boys.” The Falcons have already confirmed nine summer signings, the latest being Italian forward Josh Furno.
Announced as a Newcastle player this week, the former Biarritz and Aironi man was yesterday also named in Italy’s squad for their summer tour to the Pacific.
Listed as a back-rower in the Azzurri’s tour party, he will be part of the group which faces test matches against Fiji, Samoa and Japan on June 7, 14 and 21 respectively. Meanwhile, another of Newcastle’s impending arrivals has been shortlisted for an award, Rotherham back Juan Pablo Socino one of three names in the frame for RFU Championship Player of the season.
He will battle with London Scottish back-rower Mark Bright and Leeds scrum-half Craig Hampson for the prize, the Argentinian having kicked the Titans into Championship semi-final contention as they trail regular-season winners Bristol by three points going into Saturday’s second leg in Yorkshire.