NEWCASTLE Falcons are hoping to fill their boots against depleted Aviva Premiership line-ups during the Rugby World Cup.
New Zealand plays host to the international showpiece throughout September and October, during which time the Falcons hope to maximise their chances as the league’s big-hitters kick off the new domestic campaign without their test match stars.
So far only prop-forward Euan Murray will be missing from the Newcastle ranks as he packs down for Scotland, while traditional giants like Leicester and Northampton could see absentees in double figures during the first six weeks of the new league season.
Falcons chairman Dave Thompson has already mapped out his wish list as the club look to improve on a campaign which saw them win just four of their 22 league games to stay afloat on points difference.
“Looking at next season, you have got 12 games where English internationals are not going to be available for the Aviva Premiership, starting with the World Cup,” said Thompson.
“You have the first six league games followed by two LV= Cup weekends, and they all fall during the World Cup because you would have to accept that England are likely to make the knock-out rounds.”
Thompson added: “That period is going to be the key to our season.
“In my mind you have got to plan for the fact that we will have six home games during the international periods, and we have got to win all six. That is your starting point, and from the six away games during the same period we have to set a target of winning something like three of those.
“When teams have full squads we have to win an additional three games minimum, and that would give us something in the region of 12 wins from the whole season.
“If you can take five bonus points throughout the course of the campaign, be they losing by less than eight or scoring four tries, that puts you in contention for the top six.
“It is a very high target which is difficult to turn into reality, and I am aware of that, but if we get the players we are after and, because of the make-up of next season with the World Cup, I do believe it is possible.”
Thompson has already confirmed his intention to stick with the coaching team of Alan Tait and Paul Moriarty, although additional help is being sought on the skills front to work alongside the incumbent duo.
On the playing side, six new signings have already been announced, following the acquisitions of Bradford Bulls wing Rikki Sheriffe, Gloucester scrum-half Jordi Pasqualin, New South Wales three-quarter Ryan Shortland, Samoa centre Jamie Helleur, Doncaster prop Daniel Frazier and North Harbour flanker Richard Mayhew.
Bedford scrum-half Will Chudley is expected to become the seventh, following talks last week, with moves for England Under-18s lock Joe Robinson and Tynedale’s England Students second-row Richard Boyle also understood to be in the pipeline. A top-class outside centre has been made a priority following Tane Tu’ipulotu’s departure to Japanese club Yamaha, and Rob Vickerman’s move to the England Sevens squad, while the search for a tight-head prop continues due to Murray’s World Cup absence and James Hall’s knee ligament injury.
Leeds youngster Gareth Denman is understood to be one name under consideration, while the club are also pursuing a highly-recommended lead from South Africa’s Currie Cup ranks.
Meanwhile, the Falcons have had two players named in the England Under-18s training squad.
Yarm School wing Zach Kibirige will be joined by Sedbergh School prop Scott Wilson for a four-day training camp, to be held at Harrow School in mid-July.
Former Falcons coach John Fletcher will use the get-together to whittle down his selection options, with fellow Kingston Park old boys Peter Walton and Ian Peel also on the age-group coaching team.