Dean Richards expects Bedford to ring the changes for tomorrow’s Championship play-off final at Kingston Park – his Newcastle Falcons side going into the second leg with a nine-point head start.
Winning 18-9 at Goldington Road last Thursday, the director of rugby said: “Bedford can certainly surprise us, and if I had lost to a team four times in the same season I would be looking to throw something different in there.
“I have no doubt they will do that, and I don’t think they will start with Myles Dorrian at fly-half.
“I would expect them to change things and go with Jake Sharp, and in that respect he would bring something different to their side.
“There might be a couple of other changes, and the game is certainly not gone.
“Nine points is nothing. Last season against London Welsh in the semi-final they went something like 17 points down and came right back to only lose by a few, so they are a capable side and can play a good brand of rugby.”
Offering only muted praise for his side’s first-leg exploits at Bedford despite dominating the tight phases and conceding little in defence, Richards said: “We missed six or seven try-scoring opportunities. I was not happy about that on the night, and I am still not happy.
“It is not about the result, though, it is about how you perform, and when we looked back at the Bedford game I didn’t think we were particularly good. We blew too many scoring chances, and the only way you can look at the game is to go out there and do as well as you possibly can.
“Our focus has been on that in the build-up to the second leg, and on not getting carried away by the occasion or any personal agendas. It is about performing as a team, and while we were workmanlike at Bedford our execution of try-scoring chances was a little bit awry.”
Criticising your own team is one thing, but someone outside the tent doing it is entirely another. Richards was at his cutting best when asked about Sky Sports pundit Pat Sanderson’s withering assessment of the regular-season winners, stating: “It doesn’t really bother us. All it does is show the naivety in his understanding of the game. He played a lot for Worcester and a couple of other clubs, but he was not renowned as being an exceptionally good player.
“His comments reflect the naivety in his knowledge of the game, and our players know that.
“It doesn’t rankle with us at all, and it is just water off a duck’s back because we all know where he is coming from.”
One factor evident in their convincing first-leg display was the freshness of body among the travelling Falcons, their director of rugby having lessened the physical workload.
Richards explained: “The journey back on Wednesday seemed to take an age, just with it being later at night, and we have given the players a couple of days off from actually training on the field in light of that.
“What that has allowed us to do is a little bit of extra work behind the scenes from a tactics and analysis standpoint, and things are really looking fresh as a result of that.”
Revealing he will not be in the changing room to deliver a rousing final word before the teams run out, he added: “Right in those last moments, none of the coaching staff are there.
“That is the players’ time, and it is up to them.
“The last involvement any of the coaches will have is when the lads come in from their warm-up, and that is it.
“I think it is the same at most clubs these days, in fairness, and the way we have always done it.”