Performance will be the main benchmark for Dean Richards tonight in the Basque country, where his Newcastle Falcons side open their pre-season account against Bayonne.
The director of rugby has long had a laissez-faire outlook when it comes to results in friendly matches, the former England and Lions forward more eager to see that the building blocks of his side’s newly-expanded game are in place.
“I won four Premiership titles at Leicester, and in all that time I think we won one pre-season match,” said Richards, whose side kick off at 7pm UK time this evening at Bayonne’s 14,000-capacity Stade Jean Dauger.
“The importance for us is actually the preparation for the season rather than the result, although obviously there is an element of confidence and understanding that things are happening for you.
“Ultimately it is what happens in the first, second and third league game that counts, and going forward from there.”
The Falcons boss has insisted there will be none of the mass substitutions and inflated squads which can render summer games virtually meaningless, revealing: “It will not be overly so in terms of how many replacements we make during the match.
“We will probably go with a squad of 26 which is three more than we would for a regular-season game – but not a massive amount more.
“Of course it is important we get a look at a certain number of players, but it defeats the object if you are just rolling them on for 20 minutes here and there.
“A lot of the boys need some game time, and the beauty for us is that later in the month we have a match against Leeds on the Friday and another against Rotherham. There will be a lot of boys getting game time that week, and that will be important for them.”
Up against a Bayonne side which only just avoided relegation from France’s Top 14 last season and which has seen a major overhaul to its playing squad, Richards added: “Bayonne have got some good players in their squad when you look down the list, and for us it should be a useful exercise.
“The benefit for us is that we are playing quality opposition.
“It is always slightly different playing against a French side because the structure of their game is not the same as what we are used to in the Premiership, but they are always challenging.
“Bayonne are a little bit of an unknown quantity in the sense they have signed a lot of players from last season. They are in a bit of transition with the turnover of players they have had during the summer, and because of that unknown element it will be quite challenging for us.”
The Newcastle boss could hand debuts to a number of his summer signings, although Samoan pair Alesana and Anitilea Tuilagi will not be among that number. They are still awaiting the required paperwork to join up with their new club-mates, and have been undertaking their pre-season preparations with a trainer in the Pacific islands.
One familiar face returning to the Newcastle dug-out will be that of Dave Walder, the long-time Newcastle fly-half who has returned to the club as attack coach.
Richards said: “More than anything we are looking at our own game, and how we can develop that. With Dave coming in we will be looking to implement what he has brought, and I am looking forward to seeing how it goes.
“Overall our pre-season is going very well, and there is a great relationship between the coaches. They have a very clear understanding of what is required from them, and the boys are working very hard.
“I have been delighted with that, and in some ways for me this is the most frustrating time of year because I have less of an involvement with the players than I would do during the season.
“But seeing how Dave works, and the relationship he has with John Wells as head coach now, has been really pleasing.”