Drawing level took some fighting spirit - Dean Richards

Dean Richards was pleased with Newcastle Falcons' fighting spirit in their game against Bath but is expecting better results from his side

Newcastle Falcons director of Rugby Dean Richards (r) talks with forwards coach John Wells
Newcastle Falcons director of Rugby Dean Richards (r) talks with forwards coach John Wells

Dean Richards is not a man prone to over-reactions, so it came as no surprise that the great bear of English rugby was saving the champagne for another day.

His Newcastle Falcons side, tipped by the bookies for the drop and written off by some cynics before a ball has even been kicked, had just drawn 21-21 with established Premiership force Bath, coming back three times from behind and levelling with virtually the final play of Tuesday’s keenly contested friendly.

Ending up all square under the baking Beziers sun in the gunnels of the Stade de Mediteranee, the director of rugby was philosophical about the whole thing.

“People can read too much into pre-season friendlies at times, although clearly they are an important part of our preparation,” said the 50-year-old, an unashamed Francophile who is fluent in the language after spells playing at Rouen and coaching Grenoble.

“The French have a phrase for friendly matches. It is ‘mis en place’, which means ‘putting things in place,’ and I think that is a great way of looking at it.

“That is not to say the result is unimportant, because it is never unimportant. But at the same time it gives you a great opportunity to try other things, some things you would not ordinarily get the chance to do.”

There was certainly plenty to try in Beziers, with 29 Newcastle players seeing action as a notable tranche stayed at Kingston Park to recover from knocks.

Among those to shine were Joel Hodgson, the 21-year-old fly-half who was so influential in the Premiership Sevens. His claims on the No 10 shirt were diluted marginally by Phil Godman’s well taken trio of conversions to draw the sides level, but the options are certainly there.

“I was very happy with the performances of a lot of our players,” said Richards as Tuesday’s main event took place, a Languedoc derby between French second division rivals Beziers and Narbonne. Newcastle had been the warm-up, not that additional heat was required in temperatures in excess of 30C.

“Coming to Beziers has been a very worthwhile experience all in all, and we got a real mixture of teams going out.

“In the first 40 we couldn’t quite get that cohesion together, trailing 14-0 at half-time, but in the second half that little bit of experience in certain areas made a difference for us.”

The addition of Mike Blair at scrum-half added direction to their kicking game, while Godman’s game management and Ryan Shortland’s brace of well taken tries all ticked boxes.

“There were a lot of pleasing things in both halves, to be honest,” said Richards, before qualifying that statement. “Battling back the way we did showed a lot of character, but it shouldn’t be about that because we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in those positions. We were under a lot of pressure at certain times during the first half; we gave away some silly penalties and that is what put is where we were.”

As the Falcons boarded their flight home yesterday, Beziers was welcoming hundreds of thousands of revellers. The Mediterranean town is hosting the annual Feria festival, a four-day extravaganza centred on bull-fighting and flamenco dancing. All major routes into and out of the city centre have been closed to make space for the countless makeshift bars, and hotel rooms within a 20-mile radius were booked up months ago.

While the Falcons didn’t get to experience the festivities, they have at least gained some pointers for shaping their pre-season preparations.

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