Club-by-club guide: Newcastle Falcons

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The Independent Online

Director of Rugby: Steve Bates

Captain: Phil Dowson

IN

Tane Tu’ipolutu (Hurricanes), Spencer Davey (Doncaster), Adam Balding (Gloucester), Danny Williams (Leeds Rhinos)

OUT

Toby Flood (Leicester), Mathew Tait (Sale), Ben Woods (Leicester), Lee Dickson (Northampton), Matt Burke (retired)

First five games

Sep 7 Sale Sharks (h)

Sep 14 Northampton Saints (h)

Sep 21 Saracens (a)

Sep 26  Bristol Rugby (h)

Sep 30 Gloucester Rugby (a)

Lessons from last season

Falcons fans should have been worried when centre Jamie Noon came out with this confusing statement: “I wouldn’t say we’ve under-achieved - I think we just haven’t quite achieved as much as we should have.” In simpler terms, the bare fact is the Falcons’ 11th place finish was their worst in 11 seasons of their Premiership existence. They won just seven matches in the league, only one of those away from home, and only picked up one try-bonus point all season. The departure of director of rugby John Fletcher and conditioning coach Steve Black were contributing factors to a miserable season that was capped by losing England players Mathew Tait and Toby Flood to other Premiership clubs. Falcons fans will be hoping things can only get better under new coach Steve Bates, but many of them fear the worst.

Weaknesses

Despite the arrival of Carl Hayman, the lightweight Newcastle forwards were second best to the majority of their rivals. Out wide they were impotent to say the least. Wing John Rudd failed to cross the whitewash at all in the league and a lack of cutting edge will remain a problem.

Strengths

Any side with Jonny Wilkinson (right) in form must consider that a strength, but have his best days passed him by? The No.10 will need to be at his best. There are also some good youngsters to look out for. Alex Tait and Rob Miller both starred for the Grand Slam-winning England U-20 side and could be ready to make the step up.

Player to watch

The Kingston Park faithful will be hoping Tane Tu’ipulotu (above) will live up to his nickname of ‘The King’ when the hard-running centre arrives in the North East. The Wellington man is very much in the mould of Ma’a Nonu in that he enjoys busting tackles, but he has the all-round skills to create chances for others as well. If he sees enough of the ball he could be the saving grace for the Falcons this year.

Did you know?

New Zealand back rower Richard Arnold was the first ever player to be granted a testimonial season by the club.

Prediction

Hard to see a reason not to tip them for the drop.

12th

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