NEWCASTLE Falcons centre Luke Eves is poised to return to former club Bristol for the remainder of the season, while uncertainty over head coach Alan Tait’s future could also come to a head today.
Eves has made 16 appearances this term, but The Journal can reveal that the 22-year-old will return to his native West Country after slipping down the Kingston Park pecking order following last week’s signing of Tom Bedford.
The decision to send Eves on loan was taken by Tait although major question marks remain over whether or not the Scot will still be in charge for Sunday’s visit of Italian champions Petrarca Padova.
The head coach had said after last weekend’s loss to Exeter that he would consider his position, and The Journal understands an announcement over his future could come as early as this afternoon.
Eves will join fellow Falcons loan-man Glen Townson at the Memorial Stadium, although Newcastle’s decision to bolster the Championship leaders seems an extraordinary one given their own current position at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership.
Only Bristol and fifth-placed Leeds Carnegie are expected to meet the strict criteria for entry into English rugby’s top flight, as revealed by The Journal earlier this week. Should the Falcons end the campaign at the bottom of the league, their only chance of Premiership survival hinges on neither Bristol nor Leeds winning the two-leg Championship play-off final in late May.
To actively support the West Country side’s promotion push with the addition of Eves is therefore a perplexing move, especially given Newcastle’s back-line injury crisis which currently sees Jamie Helleur, Corne Uys, Alex Tait, Michael Tait and Rikki Sheriffe all sidelined.
Eves is also one of the Falcons’ 36 registered players for Amlin Challenge Cup action going into a fortnight of European games.
New signing Bedford is not eligible for the competition, with Newcastle expected to ring the changes in a tournament where quarter-final progress seems unlikely. One man tipped to feature for the Falcons against Padova this weekend is fly-half Joel Hodgson, with the 19-year-old in the frame for a first start of the campaign. He said: “When I sat down at the end of last season the aim was always to look at the Amlin Challenge Cup and LV= Cup games.
“My training, weights and general fitness have all been coming along well, and I am just doing everything I can to be in contention for Sunday.”
Bench outings against Cardiff Blues and London Irish have provided the prospect’s only senior action this season, although the former England Under-18s cap played a starring role as the Falcons surged to their first ever Premiership Rugby Sevens title back in August.
More regular action at Tynedale has kept the engine ticking over, with Hodgson stating: “It is still a competitive level in National One and it allows me to try different things. By playing at Tynedale I am learning every week, and it is helping me keep match-sharp.”
After their European fortnight, the Falcons host Sale Sharks in LV= Cup action before a trip to Leicester Tigers completes the Anglo-Welsh group stages.
“It is a big week for us regardless of the league situation,” said Hodgson, with Newcastle now nine points adrift at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership.
Insisting that the foot would still be on the gas despite the looming possibility of relegation from the top flight of English rugby, he added: “The way we are as a club is that we want to do our best every game, regardless of the competition.
“That means being switched-on and physical, and we are not treating this match any differently.
“Petrarca are coming over as Italian champions, and we have to be ruthless in getting a win for our home supporters who have followed us so well this season.”