When you are as big as Dean Richards strength is never a problem. Even his cuppa is super-strong.
Through the entire 12 minutes and 38 seconds of our interview Newcastle Falcons’ director of rugby sips his way through a brew, his tea bag fully submerged for the duration.
Getting stronger with every passing second, the message on the mug says what needs to be said.
“I am the coach. To avoid wasting time, just assume I know everything,” it screams in large, capital letters.
It is a message typical of Richards’ self-deprecating humour and his leadership style, both of which have been key to his success in management.
Decorated with every honour in the club game during his time at Leicester, tomorrow sees Newcastle Falcons hosting his other former English charges, Harlequins.
Almost half a decade on from the events that led to him leaving the London club, the build-up is another chance for the national media to rake over the remains of the Bloodgate scandal which saw him banned for three years after sanctioning the use of a fake-blood capsule during a Heineken Cup game.
Prior to his arrival in the press conference the local journalists discuss the subject, the consensus being that unless there is anything new to say, which there patently isn’t, there is no need to revisit a crime for which the sentence has been served.
A local radio interviewer lobs one in as a token gesture in a wider chat, Richards flat-bats it and everybody moves on. Except a major national network hears it, runs that one question on its website and ignores everything else. Here we go again.
It is a sequence of events Richards is not unaccustomed to, and the day when people stop dwelling on Bloodgate will be welcome all round. That will probably come after February 15 when the Falcons travel to Harlequins, but tomorrow’s televised date provides another excuse for the interlopers to go through it all again.
Such inconsequential sideshows should not distract from the altogether more important business of a Premiership rugby match, one that both clubs are aiming to use as a launchpad to league success.
The definitions of success are all relative to expectation, the Falcons going well in their bottom-four mini-league and setting sights on progression into mid-table safety. For a side so early into their development there is no disgrace in that, whereas serial contenders Harlequins are striving to cement their top-four status.
“I am happy, and I think people tend to forget that this side is evolving,” says Richards, his side having won three of their eight games following last season’s promotion. “When you look at the Harlequins team it has hardly changed in six or seven years, whereas we have a lot of youngsters just coming through.
“Those guys are quality and in two or three years’ time, provided we keep them, we will have a far more stable side with more understanding of how to play in the manner we want to. People will see a different style of rugby once we are able to achieve that, but at this moment in time we are at a different stage in our development.”
Pouring scorn on notions of a safety-net at the bottom thanks to Worcester’s win-less start, he adds: “I always look above, rather than below.
“That’s the way it should be, and if you are looking over your shoulder then you are worrying about the wrong things.”
More than aware of the challenge awaiting the Falcons tomorrow, the director of rugby explains: “Harlequins will probably be a little frustrated with where they are in the league, because they understandably had high expectations. They are a very good side who play a fantastic brand of rugby, and there is a lot of quality there.
“They are a team steeped in history who play a good style of rugby, and they have a lot of star players in their squad. Chris Robshaw is the current England captain, Mike Brown, Danny Care and Joe Marler are all in the England squad, Nick Evans is a sensational fly-half and guys like Nick Easter have been playing good rugby for years. It is not a bad side when you begin to list the names, and I am sure the rugby supporters in the North East will look forward to the chance to come and see us going against them.
“Of the side they fielded last week, all but three of them were at the club when I was there. A few of them were just coming through the academy, but the core group of that side has been together for seven years.
“How that benefits them, as well as being good players in their own right, means they have a greater understanding of each other’s game in different situations.”