Italy lock Josh Furno is heading to Newcastle, director of rugby Dean Richards confirming the 6ft 7in forward as the Falcons’ ninth summer signing.
The 24-year-old, born in Australia but raised in Italy, has been capped 18 times by the Azzurri, playing all five of their Six Nations tests this year and scoring a try against Scotland.
An athletic line-out forward renowned for his pitch coverage and set-piece ability, Furno broke through with Italian club Viadana before representing the region in their ‘Aironi’ guise during their brief flirtation with the Pro 12.
From there he headed to France with second division side Narbonne, going on to join Biarritz, who were this month relegated from the Top 14.
Furno becomes the second Italian lock to pull on the Falcons’ shirt, Carlo del Fava having distinguished himself during two seasons as a Newcastle player before being forced to retire through injury.
Facing a battle for a second-row start, Furno will have to compete with contracted locks Scott MacLeod, Dom Barrow and newly-signed Calum Green.
Of the current locking contingent Sean Tomes is currently looking for another club, while former Saracen Harry Spencer and ex-Munster man Ian Nagle are currently not contracted for next season. Furno becomes Newcastle’s ninth signing, following the previously-announced arrivals of Alesana Tuilagi (NTT, Japan), Anitile’a Tuilagi (Newport Gwent Dragons), Eric Fry (London Scottish), Semisi Taulava (Worcester), Rob Hawkins (Leicester), Ruki Tipuna (Bristol), Juan Pablo Socino (Rotherham) and Calum Green (Leeds).
He will form part of a squad hoping to improve on a second-bottom Premiership finish, the Falcons without a league win since the end of October after going on a run of 16 successive league defeats.
Meanwhile, Dave Walder will formally join Newcastle Falcons’ management team next season, forwards coach John Wells being promoted to head coach following the departure of Peter Russell.
Walder, the former Falcons and England fly-half, has spent this season with the Falcons on an informal basis, coaching the club’s kickers after returning from a two-year playing stint in Japan.
Now 36 and retired from playing, the four-times-capped international will come in with a remit to coach the attack of a Newcastle which has fired only sporadically during a season of struggle, averaging just a try every two games until an end-of-season points flurry which saw 12 touchdowns in their last six games.
Having made 87 Premiership appearances in almost a decade of playing for his hometown club, Walder went on to domestic and European glory with London Wasps before finishing his career with Japanese side Mitsubishi Dynaboars.
The formalisation of his role at Kingston Park comes on the same day forwards coach Wells saw his remit widened to head coach, Dean Richards continuing as director of rugby despite the Falcons having recorded their worst ever Premiership points total under the current scoring system.
Without a league win in more than six months now, they have the summer to take stock before coming back for another run at the Premiership in September. In Wells they have a seasoned campaigner, the former back-rower having been at Kingston Park for two and a half seasons already, having previously coached England and Leicester.
The head coach vacancy opened up as a result of Russell leaving the club for “personal reasons”, the Kiwi returning to his homeland for the birth of his third child and to apply for a Super 15 job with the Wellington-based Hurricanes.