NEWCASTLE director of rugby John Fletcher isn’t ruling out more big-name signings before the end of an increasingly fraught season.
Out of the EDF Cup, facing an uphill task to qualify for the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup and currently ninth in the Guinness Premiership, Newcastle are in a slump.
They’ve lost their last four games in the Premiership and on Sunday face third-top Saracens, one of the form sides in the league, at Vicarage Road.
Lose that one – and Newcastle have lost their last ten away from home in the Premiership – and the pressure on Fletcher and his players will increase considerably.
Already fitness coach Steve Black has gone and reports persist of a move south for England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, whose contract ends in May.
Newcastle are likely to lose Wilkinson, Toby Flood, Mathew Tait and Jamie Noon to England’s Six Nations cause early in the new year and when they go, the Falcons squad always looks stretched.
Fletcher’s major signing this season, Carl Hayman, has certainly raised the stakes and there’s no doubt Newcastle’s pack are a force now but results are not being delivered and they need to be soon.
Fletcher says it’s all about confidence and “very small margins” but he does concede that he may need to step into the market for more players. “We understand where we are in terms of our own development as a club and everyone is buying in to it,” he said.
“I had a long chat with Dean Ryan after the game last weekend and we talked at length about development and taking clubs on to the next stage of their evolution, as he has done so well with Gloucester.
“I don’t think we’re that far away from turning good performances into consistently winning performances.
“A big part of it is confidence, playing together, recruitment and occasionally the referee deciding to hold his hand out on the black side rather than the red side. It’s small margins, but then that’s what professional sport is all about.
“I’m very focused. I know where we are, I know where we want to go, how we are going to develop the team, who we want to recruit and I’m excited about what can happen at this club going forward.
“You need to look to recruit all over the squad because it’s a bit of a marathon.
“At certain times of the year, your best players leave and players get injured, so you need to be constantly reviewing your squad and you need to be moving forwards sometimes just to stand still. We look at players pretty much every day and the world is our market place.
“We have a list, as does every other club, and it’s a huge part, if not the most important part, of any coach’s or director of rugby’s role because it’s a damn sight easier to coach a team when you have better players than the opposition.
“You can ask who’s on the list but I won’t tell you because that’s private and must remain so. We have been in the market place a number of times during the season and, unfortunately, have been unsuccessful even though we did sign Carl Hayman. If we think we need to bring in players before the end of the season, then that’s what we will seek to do.
“A huge part of a head coach’s job is to build a team – it’s probably the most important – either through your own system or what’s out there in the world market place.”
Fletcher has made just two changes for Sunday’s trip to Saracens (kick-off 4pm) with James Grindal coming in for Lee Dickson at scrum-half while Brent Wilson replaces Geoff Parling on the blindside flank.
Victory will give the Falcons their first away win in the Premiership since a 26-18 victory at Sale Sharks on November 17, 2006.
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: M Tait, T May, J Noon (capt), T Flood, J Rudd, J Wilkinson, J Grindal, J Golding, A Long, C Hayman, A Perry, M Sorenson, B Wilson, B Woods, R Winter. Reps: M Thompson, D Wilson, S Tomes, G Parling, L Dickson, T Visser, O Phillips.