Newcastle Falcons’ last game against London Wasps produced one of the most bittersweet afternoons in recent memory, winning their ‘relegation decider’ in High Wycombe but not by enough of a margin to maintain Premiership status.
A year and a half on, the equation is much simpler for a Falcons side desperate to do more than just tread water in the top flight of English club rugby.
To do that they need to win games, and to do that they need to start scoring tries.
Four barren afternoons against Exeter, Northampton, Harlequins and Saracens have passed since their last Premiership touchdown against London Irish two months ago to the day, not that Dean Richards is unduly stressed by a stat that much of the fanbase seems to be talking about.
“We will work our way through it, and it will just happen,” said the director of rugby ahead of tonight’s visit of London Wasps, the televised clash kicking off at 7.45pm. “I am not anxious at all. I would be more anxious if we didn’t have three wins on the board and were down at the bottom, so from that perspective I am not bothered.”
Currently enjoying a two-place and 10-point buffer between themselves and winless Worcester at the Premierships’ foot, Richards added: “Obviously I would like us to score more tries, as everybody in the team would.
“It is not as if we are going out there trying not to score them, and at some stage it will come.”
A record of just three tries in 10 league games does not entirely do justice to a Falcons side who have been competitive in most of their games, the boss insisting: “I am reasonably happy with where we are, albeit with a few frustrations.
“The Gloucester game at home is one we let slip through our fingers, and matches like Exeter last weekend away are ones where we maybe could have got something. So overall we are pretty happy, but looking forward to better things in 2014.”
Still smarting from last weekend’s 16-3 loss in Devon, he added: “You have to look at the refereeing decisions and say it cost us probably 22 points – either in points that they were given or in points we missed out on.
“There is an element of frustration from that and, while I am not saying it would have changed the result, it would certainly have changed the score.
“I actually thought the boys acquitted themselves very well. Everybody expected us to go down for there and for it to be a comfortable Exeter victory, but when you look at it if we had taken the chances that were there the result might have been different. We came off after that game feeling we should have got something out of it, but in the end we got absolutely nothing.”
Tonight hosting a Wasps side a further two places and 10 points above them, Richards does not expect the holiday scheduling to be a factor in front of what is anticipated to be the Falcons’ biggest home crowd of the season.
“I am pretty sure that the Wasps boys will be professional,” said the former England and Lions No 8.
“They will have enjoyed their Christmas Day at home, but then be really focused on tonight’s game. When you are a professional sportsmen these are the kinds of sacrifices you have to make, and overall you live what is a very comfortable and fantastic life.
“Wasps will be coming into this game with a lot of confidence – understandably so when you look at what they have in their side.
“In the forward pack they have a back-five to dream of in terms of Launchbury and Palmer at lock, Johnson, Haskell and the other boys in the back row.
“Out wide they have the pace of Tom Varndell, they have got an excellent fullback in Elliot Daly and there is a lot of balance to their side when you look across all the positions. Against Northampton last week it was a surprise perhaps that they didn’t score a try, but as we know ourselves not every side is scoring tries at the moment.”
Kicking off the first of four successive home games (two in the league and a further pair in Europe), Richards is making no attempt to downplay the consequences.
“We are into a massive part of the season, and there is no hiding from it,” Richards said, having this week announced the signing of Samoan outside-back Sinoti Sinoti. The 28-year-old will not come into contention until next Friday’s league visit of Sale Sharks, but adds cutting edge to a Newcastle back-line still shorn of Argentine signing Gonzalo Tiesi and only last week having welcomed back Samoan centre Jamie Helleur from a long-term injury.
“It was great to see Jamie back out there at Exeter, and to have him fit and available for selection,” said Richards. “He communicates well, his decision-making is good, defensively he is very strong and he challenges the line when he has ball in hand.
“As for Sinoti, he comes to Newcastle with a lot of experience under his belt having played in the French Top 14, RaboDirect Pro 12 and Heineken Cup, and ultimately he is a great acquisition for the club.”