ALAN Tait was back at Kingston Park to take Newcastle Falcons’ training yesterday, but there was a new appointment to the management team with James Ponton arriving as academy head coach.
After a scheduled rest day on Monday, Tait was back on site with a business-as-usual mindset despite the continued uncertainty over his longer-term future.
Players and coaches held a lunchtime meeting, but the gathering was merely a scheduled debrief of Saturday’s 16-10 loss to Exeter as well as planning ahead for Sunday’s visit of Italian champions Petrarca Padova.
Tait and his coaching team then took afternoon training as normal, with no news from the club to suggest an imminent change at the top.
One man making his introductions to Kingston Park staff was Ponton, a Premiership flanker with Leeds and West Hartlepool in his playing days.
The 37-year-old will work alongside academy manager Mark Laycock in a new-look set-up following the departure of Richard Arnold.
Ponton, who has resigned his position as player-coach at Percy Park RFC with immediate effect, said: “I am over the moon to be on board and it is a great opportunity.
“There is huge talent in the North East and Cumbria, and the mission is to make them into Premiership rugby players for Newcastle who will stay here for a long time.”
Explaining the newly-bolstered set-up, Ponton added: “I will be working alongside Mark to head up the academy, with the aim of bringing local talent through and ultimately promoting it to the first-team.
“The Falcons have been quite successful at that in the past and it needs to be rekindled.
“Mark and I will work very well side by side but he will have the overall say on things.
“It is very early days so I am just finding my feet and having Mark here is a godsend because he has so much to offer.”
The Wallsend-born forward last season helped Percy Park to their first Northumberland County Cup triumph for more than half a century as well as steering them to a promotion play-off final.
Working with the Falcons’ second-string right down to their youngest junior teams, he said: “I will be out coaching, meeting the players and working with the apprentices as running the A-team with Mark.
“Working with the professionals in that environment will be good and it is an important part of the overall picture.”
Despite the Falcons being nine points adrift at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership, Ponton insisted the long-term future of their academy was not dependent on top-flight status being retained.
He added: “The RFU have 14 academies throughout the country and Newcastle Falcons is one of those.
“Even if the worst was to happen and the Falcons were relegated from the Premiership the academy here would still remain in place as normal and you could even argue it would become more important in that situation.”
Keen not just to develop talent but to keep it in the region after a succession of departures by homegrown players, he added: “We need to get loyalty out of the lads we bring through.
“That loyalty is one of Semore Kurdi’s main aims as the owner, because Newcastle have produced brilliant players down the years who have moved on too early.
“We have spoken about how we can achieve that and, aside from the obvious financial considerations, the key thing is to get them here playing as part of a Falcons team rather than being at different clubs and occasionally being pulled in by us.
“The idea is they will be here playing for the Falcons, getting used to being at the club and having regular contact with senior mentors from the first-team squad.
“It is making them feel like they belong here.”