Two games into their pre-season campaign, still unbeaten and yet to miss a single kick at goal – the reasons for Dean Richards to be cheerful are plentiful.
Saturday’s rain-drenched home victory over Connacht followed the previous week’s 21-21 draw with Bath and, despite not going overboard in his praise, Newcastle Falcons’ director of rugby remains largely satisfied by what he has seen so far.
Out-scoring the Irish province two-tries to one in an encounter which fizzled out due to the weather and a litany of substitutions, a philosophical Richards said: “We probably got out of it what he had hoped to.
“It was a shame it started to rain five minutes before the game kicked off, but it was the same for both sides, and we handled it okay.”
A low-key opening half saw minimal movement on the scoreboard as two Joel Hodgson penalties and a single reply from Dan Parks had the Falcons 6-3 to the good, but there was cause for optimism for those who had come for their first look at the newly-promoted outfit.
Mike Blair, the 85-times-capped scrum-half who has headlined their summer influx, was buzzing around the fringes, linking the play and picking sound options. Hodgson, outside him, kicked his goals and attacked the line, and James Fitzpatrick in the centres caught and passed the ball with unaccustomed ease.
Scott Lawson’s arrow delivery at the line-out ensured a steady stream of set-piece possession, and even if the odd scrummage went backwards, it was safely cleared up.
That said, against the weakest of Ireland’s four provinces the number of meaningful forays in behind the defence was limited.
The two clear-cut chances they had were taken, firstly by Ryan Shortland, the Kiwi whose brace against Bath was followed up by a superb support line on Saturday, taking an inside pop from Phil Godman after coming in from his wing. The second was from fellow wide man Andy Higgins, the veteran finishing tidily in the left corner after Tom Catterick and Alex Crockett had worked a three-on-two to its conclusion.
Connacht poached a consolation through open-side Willie Faloon’s try in the right corner from close range near the end, but it could not disguise the fact that Newcastle had been by far the dominant force.
Still seeking further improvement ahead of Friday’s final pre-season outing against Edinburgh in Hawick, Richards said: “These games are designed for dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.
“Our execution was good up until the second or third phase, and then we started to rush things a little bit. A couple of times we got caught defensively, which we will address, but on the whole it wasn’t too bad.
“We could have scored a couple of tries, Connacht missed one or two themselves, and in the end the score was probably fair enough.”
Praising the Irish visitors, he added: “Connacht gave us a good physical work-out.
“Phil Godman acquitted himself well, as did Mike Blair at scrum-half – and looking at the whole game I was happy with a number of the guys.”
Looking for further progression in Hawick, Richards said: “Edinburgh away is the last chance to put things in place for the start of the Premiership, and what we will be looking for is a greater understanding of how to use the ball.
“At the moment we are rushing things a bit, and we need to have more patience when we are in possession.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Catterick, N Cato, D Barnes, J Fitzpatrick, R Shortland, J Hodgson, M Blair; G Strain, S Lawson, O Tomaszczyk, D Barrow, C del Fava, M Wilson, W Welch (captain), A Hogg. Replacements: R Vickers, M Thompson, S Wilson, F Montanella, S MacLeod, C York, C Pilgrim, P Godman, J Helleur, A Crockett, A Higgins.
Falcons scorers – Tries: R Shortland, A Higgins. Conversions: P Godman 2. Penalties: J Hodgson 2, P Godman.
CONNACHT: F Carr, T O’Halloran, E Griffin, C Finn, S Layden, D Parks, F Murphy; B Wilkinson, J Harris-Wright (captain), N White, M Kearney, C Clarke, E McKeon, W Faloon, G Naoupu. Replacements: S Henry, R Ah-You, R Loughney, M Swift, A Browne, J Muldoon, J Heenan, K Marmion, MNikora, B Murphy, S Macauley.
Connacht scorers – Tries: W Faloon. Conversions: M Nikora. Penalties: D Parks.
Referee: T Wigglesworth