Rugby Union: Falcons forced to alter style

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THE DEPTH of character shown by Newcastle in winning tight matches on the road to last season's Allied Dunbar Premiership title was matched only by the bottomless levels of unpopularity they achieved in the more myopic heartlands of the English game, so few tears will be shed at the thought of Dean Ryan and company impaled on the horns of a tactical dilemma, writes Chris Hewett. In fact, it was impossible not to hear the chuckles as the Falcons went down heavily at Richmond on the opening day.

Ryan, the Newcastle captain, admitted at Reading that his side's tried and tested confrontational route one approach was now obsolete, thanks to new refereeing interpretations in and around the tackle area. Yesterday, Steve Bates, the coach, said: "We're having to change our style and we're taking a risk, because we could end up losing every game."

Fat chance. Newcastle may have leaked 41 points to Richmond but they still go into today's game with Bath as marginal favourites, especially as the Westcountrymen looked leaden and uninspired for long periods of their own opener against Wasps. In Va'aiga Tuigamala and Rob Andrew, the Falcons possess two of the most accomplished midfield playmakers and, once Jonny Wilkinson starts to make the transition from boy wonder to grown up, they will pose a significant threat to any defence.

"They'll be on the rebound after Richmond," predicted Richard Webster, whose role as Bath's club captain, as opposed to first team captain, threatens to render him neither fish nor fowl. Webster sits on the bench while Phil de Glanville calls the shots on the field and the visitors should arrive at Gateshead unchanged.

n The Rugby Football Union yesterday named Francis Baron, a 52-year- old former director of Yorkshire Television and a pioneering figure in the development of satellite sports coverage, as their first chief executive. Baron played his senior rugby with Rosslyn Park and is now a member of Richmond. Ironically, Richmond's own chief executive is Tony Hallett, the man originally earmarked for the RFU position.