Rory Clegg has found Newcastle Falcons almost unrecognisable from the club he left back in 2009.
The 23-year-old is back in the North East for a second spell after heading to Harlequins as a teenager, returning with a level head and three major trophies for his troubles.
A Premiership champion in 2012 with the Twickenham Stoop outfit, Clegg was also part of the squad which claimed the 2011 Amlin Challenge Cup as well as coming on as a replacement in Quins’ LV Cup final win over Sale Sharks earlier this year.
“There have been a load of changes, and not a lot is the same from when I was here last,” said the England Saxons cap, who left the North East after finding limited opportunities on Tyneside.
Breaking through during the 2008-9 campaign, the relegation run-in saw then director of rugby Steve Bates turning to veteran winger Tom May as a makeshift stand-off, rather than handing responsibilities to Clegg.
It paid off spectacularly as May spearheaded the Falcons’ survival drive, but Clegg has noticed the improvements upon his return under Dean Richards.
“It is a better place now,” said the former Barnard Castle schoolboy, who learnt from Nick Evans at Harlequins but is now ready to plough his own furrow.
“There is a bit more ambition, and stronger depth to the squad.
“The opportunity to play is here more for me now than it was the first time round, and I have developed a lot during my time away.
“I went down to Quins when I was only 19 years old. I had four good years there and won a number of trophies. You learn a lot from something like that, and it helps you develop.
“The loan spell at Leeds towards the end of last season was also good for me, because I didn’t want to go through the season not playing rugby. They gave me an opportunity in the Championship, and I felt it was good at the time.”
Still readjusting to the intricacies of putting boot to ball in the Kingston Park whirlwind, a perfect day from the tee was off-set by a mixed bag from hand during Sunday’s 22-16 home loss to Gloucester.
“In terms of kicking for goal that local knowledge was useful, but out of hand there is still a lot of work to be done,” he admitted.
“I want to do a lot more practice on that. Obviously it swirls around a lot here, and I am not quite back in the Kingston Park mode yet. Both sides struggled with it, in fairness, and it is a tough place to kick. Gloucester obviously had limited kicks at goal but did better on the territory front, and that is what we have to learn from.”
With former Falcons favourite Dave Walder now on board as kicking coach, Clegg said: “Dave has been really useful in doing a lot of work with the boys, and it has been great to be around him.
“But it is in when you are in the pressure of a match, and the wind is swirling, that you need to nail your kicks and get your drop right. We didn’t do that well enough. Kicking at goal went well, but it was other areas of my game that let me down.”
Having at least registered their first try of the season at the fourth time of asking, he added: “We always knew we had the potential to score tries, and it is not something the boys had been particularly thinking of or worrying about.
“Against Bath and Sale we had been playing in really tough conditions in games with low try counts, so it was only a matter of time before we got ourselves over.”
The Falcons travel to bottom-placed Worcester on Saturday in a battle of the Premiership’s bottom two.