Newcastle are still warmish favourites to be the Premiership's fall guys this season, but if they start next term in the second tier of the English game they will be anything but a sideshow. By appointing the disgraced former Leicester and Harlequins boss Dean Richards as their new director of rugby – the Tynesiders issued official confirmation yesterday, less than a month before the third anniversary of the infamous "Bloodgate" match that led to Richards being branded a cheat – they have guaranteed their future in the headlines, if not in the top flight.
Richards, once a folk-hero No 8 for Leicester and England as well as a former policeman, was suspended after planning and executing an illicit substitution during a Heineken Cup quarter-final between Quins and Leinster in April 2009. Tom Williams, the Londoners' wing, bit on a fake blood capsule and left the field, allowing Richards to reintroduce the All Black fly-half Nick Evans, in the hope he would win the game with a late kick. In the event, Leinster won by a point and went on to take the title.
Television footage of Williams' suspicious actions led to an investigation, quickly followed by a Harlequins cover-up that backfired spectacularly when the player came clean to a disciplinary tribunal. Medical and conditioning staff who were implicated were dragged before their professional bodies; the Quins chairman resigned; and Richards was disqualified from all rugby for three years. That ban expires in August, at which point he will set up office at Kingston Park.
"The first year was probably the most difficult in many ways," said Richards, 48. "In other ways, it wasn't. Because the job is 24/7, you tend to neglect your family. It is only in the past three years that I have spent the amount of time I wanted with my wife and kids. Watching the children playing rugby has been fantastic. But in the last 12 months I have grown more and more frustrated, watching games and, like any coach, thinking, 'Why are they doing that?' I want to get back in. I'm raring to go."
Initially linked with a job at Worcester, Richards was talked into joining Newcastle by the owner, Semore Kurdi, and will keep his side of the bargain even if the Falcons go down.
"I agreed to join Quins before they were relegated and always intended to honour the contract I'd signed," he said. "It's the same with Newcastle."