TOM May last night became the first Falcon to consolidate a French move for next season, completing his Toulon switch.
Clubmate Jamie Noon is expected to finalise his Brive transfer imminently, while Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon move grows ever closer.
Loyal Falcon May has been at the very hub of this term’s Newcastle transformation, switching to fly-half for the six-straight Premiership wins sequence that took his side clear of relegation.
But after 10 years, 264 appearances and 500 points, he confirmed Saturday’s Harlequins trip will be his last game in a Falcons shirt.
With Geoff Parling off to Leicester, Davey Wilson switching to Bath and captain Phil Dowson moving to Northampton, Kingston Park will be much-changed next season.
While the ‘outs’ still outweigh the ‘ins’, the Falcons have already bagged imposing lock James Hudson from London Irish and yesterday closed on Tongan international Doncaster back-rower Josh Afu. The Falcons are also itching to announce Phil Dowson’s replacement, but are waiting until the new man passes his medical.
May had one year left on his current Falcons deal, but he thanked Steve Bates and Dave Thompson for allowing him the chance of a lifetime.
“At 30 years of age, I was never going to get an opportunity like this again to go and experience something new,” said May.
“The chance came up unexpectedly in the last few months, and my decision to leave Newcastle in no way reflects my feelings for the club.
“I would like to thank Steve Bates and Dave Thompson for their understanding in allowing me to take up this chance, and again emphasise that my decision is in no way a reflection on the club’s ambition or commitment for success in the future.
“I have loved every single minute of my time at Newcastle, and the Falcons supporters will always have a special place in my heart.”
Rugby director Bates said he reluctantly agreed to the switch, due to the nature of the move and consideration to May’s length of loyal service.
“Tom has an opportunity for a unique rugby experience,” said Bates. “And while we have agreed to his departure with reluctance, we can look back at a great career which has seen over a decade of outstanding service for this club.
“Tom has been a key figure for us again this season, and he leaves with our sincere best wishes.
“The next step forward is a crucial rebuilding stage, having secured our young talent to new contracts.
“Plans are in place to add to that with further international quality signings, and we are actively engaged with several further players with a view to joining the club.”
Meanwhile, yesterday’s confirmation of the Afu transfer got lost among the May announcement.
But Bates reckons the 6ft 4in, 17 stone ball-carrying back-rower will have a big impact – after a gruelling pre-season.
Afu will need to negotiate the Premiership step-up and will be expected to work his way into contention, but Bates is excited by what he has seen.
“He has incredible pace for such a big man,” enthused Bates. “He knows his way to the try line and gives us an extra option in the lineout.
“We have watched him a number of times for Doncaster this season.
“We look forward to Josh getting a good pre-season under his belt over the coming months, and adding to the competition in the back row.”