Peter Russell waves goodbye to Newcastle Falcons this afternoon, the head coach flying back to New Zealand to fight his corner in the race to take charge of Super 15 side the Hurricanes.
Before then is the small matter of ending six months without a Premiership win for his Falcons side, finishing their season on a high as Exeter Chiefs make the longest round trip in the top flight of English rugby.
“I think we have achieved a lot,” said the former Hawke’s Bay boss, who helped steer the Falcons to the RFU Championship title in his first season before securing Premiership status for next year.
“The battle for the Championship, and then survival – these things are not easy.
“People might say we are down near the bottom of the table and they are right to say that, but this is a tremendously difficult competition.
“It is all well and good being at the big clubs when you can roll out whichever players you want.
“They don’t have the same pressures of the bottom sides and it hinders your game and your mindset.
“Once you have that foot in the door for next season you can start expressing yourself and that is what we have seen.”
A Newcastle side which until recently averaged only a try every two games has now scored 12 in its last five outings, five of those coming in a manic 44-38 defeat at London Wasps last weekend.
Russell added: “It was probably one of those games we knew we could win and how we could win it, but Wasps put the pressure on us just before half-time and then again at the end.
“The boys showed incredible spirit and endeavour and the way we came back after half-time was a credit to them.”
Putting the Falcons’ improved end-of-season fare down to a number of factors, he said: “What we have done over the last 12 months is try to define our game as a whole squad. Rather than just having a big forward pack rumbling it up, they have cottoned on more recently to making it a whole team thing. The weather has helped as well, to be honest, and the attitude and belief from the boys these last few games has been excellent.”
Thinking ahead despite the fact he will not be at Kingston Park to see the plans through, Russell added: “You have to look at the Exeter game today as both the end of this season and the beginning of the next one.
“It has been a long old year for us. We have had a lot of struggles with injuries, conditions, the losses and all those sorts of things. The guys who are remaining have to take something into the pre-season and if we can achieve something against Exeter that will give us the real feelgood factor going into the summer.
“It is important we do finish well and that everyone is involved.”
Making the great leap of converting brief flashes into something more meaningful is still the key for a side searching for rugby’s holy grail, as Russell himself concedes.
The Kiwi said: “We have seen all year how we have started games well or climbed back into them. As a coach you think we have trained well all week and why haven’t they taken it into the game for 80 minutes?
“After last weekend’s start at Wasps it felt like the penny was starting to drop with the boys and the penalty count is something which is going to haunt them with the way Wasps scored from kicks to the corner.
“It is a mindset thing, and sticking to your systems. Systems are there for a reason, and you have to have trust in them.
“Last weekend we had that for 40 or 50 minutes but for the other half-hour we left the floodgates open.
“That was disappointing, and hopefully against Exeter we will not see those massive ebbs and flows.”
The Chiefs have long been the model on which many promoted teams base themselves, although the Devon side are languishing in fourth-bottom after running out of petrol.
Russell added: “Exeter have excelled in the Premiership, but they will be hurting at the moment.
“They are in their worst position since being promoted and that is one thing they have spoken about in the media.
“They want to go out having accomplished something, as we do, and we have got to weigh up what they are going to bring. We have to impose ourselves very quickly on to them.
“They can throttle you with their possession game, so we need to make sure we are up to speed in defence and that we can exploit their weaknesses.
“When they get into their wide-to-wide game and there are lots of turnovers – that is the time to hit them.”