In an age where success and failure can be judged in an instant, it is nice to sit back and observe the slow, gradual growth of an individual. Especially so when the person in question is one of our own; a local product hewn from Geordie grit.
Will Welch is the man in question and, as he sits in the East Stand bar looking out over the Kingston Park pitch, chatting lucidly and intelligently to the media, thoughts wander back five years.
Making his Newcastle Falcons debut as an RGS schoolboy, the England age-group flanker saw his name on the board for press-conference duty. It was not a call he wanted and, as his head sheepishly poked into the room, he was already hatching an escape plan.
Making it politely clear he was not yet ready to go on the record, the small handful of local journalists at least wanted to give him the opportunity to use it as practice, firing a few questions with tape-recorders turned off and tucked away in their bags.
Against everyone’s expectations, the next 20 minutes were spent listening to a 17-year-old adroitly charming and informing the gathered media about his thoughts on life and rugby, in one of the best interviews never to make it into print.
Move forward five years, and he is now the captain of Newcastle Falcons, diving into one of many such media appearances without even waiting for the club’s press officer, who is delayed on his way to the stadium.
“No mate, fire away,” he says enthusiastically, when asked if he wants to hang on for his media minder.
First, the small matter of this afternoon’s visit to Worcester Warriors, a battle of the Aviva Premiership’s bottom two and a game expected to have significant implications on the relegation race, even so early in the season.
“People might pretend it is just another game, but it is always in the back of your mind that it is a massive match when you a play a side in the same part of the table,” he says, making no attempt to side-step the consequences. “Obviously this is an important one, and if we can get four or more points at Worcester then it will take us away from them at the bottom. The knock in confidence for them would be pretty severe.
“Worcester haven’t even got a win yet, so they will be desperate for that, and targeting us. I can’t imagine their confidence being too high, but it is important we are switched-on defensively because they have a big lumpy pack and an exciting back three.”
The Falcons head to Sixways fresh from a 22-16 loss to Gloucester, made all the more frustrating by their flying start and subsequent disintegration. Their director of rugby Dean Richards attributed some of the fade factor to fitness, but Welch believes it was more a case of mind than matter in explaining the turnaround.
The flanker says: “We knew exactly how we were gong to start the game, and it went inch-perfectly in terms of the kick-off, the line-out move and the play which led to the try.
“Being direct and playing at a high pace were the keys during that period, but during the last 10 minutes of the first half and the next half-hour after half-time our intensity just wasn’t there. We have spoken about that a lot during the week, and you have got to be winning games when you are 10 points up at home.
“We targeted the start of the game and had a good half-hour, but unfortunately let it slip.”
Welch adds: “It was more a mind-set thing, and down to attitude. We have learnt our lessons from that, we have spoken about why we dropped off, and it all came down to intensity and game control.
“Our tackling, our work rate – you just can’t afford to drop your standards against teams like Gloucester. They have the players to put points on you, which is what they did.
“It didn’t help that our basics were not up to scratch, kicking balls out on the full, knocking-on and all the rest of it. As soon as you flag in those areas you let teams in, but we have learnt from the experience and moved on.”
As Welch is finding out, a captain’s work is never done, and aside from leading his side there is the small matter of working his magic on the referee, too. “Not giving away penalties is so important, because most of the matches are decided by less than one try,” he says, preparing to stay on the right side of Martin Fox this afternoon at Sixways. “We speak about the referees in our meetings during the week, and do a lot of analysis on them.
“We will have identified which refs are approachable and which are not.
“Andrew Small last week against Gloucester, for example, was more than happy to explain things during the game. You tend to find the ones who aren’t great are the ones who don’t like being spoken to.
“A lot of the referees are really hot on discipline in the Premiership, whereas last season you could get away with more.
“Rolling away at the ruck and releasing the tackled player are policed much more heavily now, and they will give you a yellow card without even thinking.”