Dean Richards: The sinner turned saint has Newcastle Falcons flying high
Having done his time for his role in the Quins Bloodgate scandal, Richards is enjoying a new lease of life resurrecting Newcastle, as he tells Simon Turnbull
For four months now, Dean Richards has been working away under the national radar. It will be different tomorrow. His high-flying Newcastle Falcons will be in the spotlight, three miles down the road from Newcastle Airport.
The Sky Sports television cameras are coming to Kingston Park for the RFU Championship fixture between Richards' Falcons and London Scottish. It is not just any old second-tier contest. It will be the first match in which the man in the middle will be hooked up with a three-inch piece of new technology called a ref cam.
If nothing else, as well as picking up some choice exchanges between the front rows, the occasion will highlight the rehabilitation of Richards. Having taken the rap for the Bloodgate affair – resigning as director of rugby at Harlequins in the summer of 2009 and accepting a three-year ban as the man responsible for the use of a fake blood capsule to engineer the substitution of Tom Williams by Nick Evans in a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster – the former Leicester, England and Lions totem of a No 8 has been managing very nicely on his return to the game.
The Falcons are 12 points clear at the top of the Championship with 11 wins out of 11. In all, they have won 16 matches out of 16 under Richards. Last month they beat Tonga, which was more than Scotland could manage in what proved to be the national coach Andy Robinson's last stand.
"I'm enjoying life here," the big bear of a 49-year-old says, sitting comfortably in his Falcons sweatshirt in the deserted East Stand bar at Kingston Park. "Professionally, I think the club is going in the right direction. We're winning on the pitch, which is a big thing, and off the pitch the changes we have made have got us moving in the right direction too.
"So, yeah, I'm enjoying it. I love the area. I love the location. Everybody's very welcoming. And you don't have to go far out of Newcastle to see some beautiful scenery."
Deano has been this way before, of course – not so much up in Hadrian's Wall country as putting the rebuilding blocks in place with a relegated side. Back in 2004-05, the man who guided Leicester to six trophies in six seasons spent a year in the Championship laying down the foundations that have taken Harlequins to success under Conor O'Shea.
In the far North-east of England, it is Richards' intention to create a lasting top-flight bastion – something more durable than the fleeting success at Newcastle that was largely bought with Sir John Hall's largesse in the late 1990s.
"It's exactly why we're trying to do things right, rather than fudge the issue and do what a lot of the other [Championship] clubs are trying to do, which is potentially buying players in for the final two or three months of the season and then buying players to play [in the Premiership].
"For us... we're in for the long haul. We had our 'Visions and Values' day the other day, which was looking purely at why we're here and the longevity of it. Unless we've got the right culture and the right vision, the right values, then it's going to be short-term. So let's get everything in place, and let's make it happen."
On his return to the game in late August – having served a longer ban than the combined punishment meted out to Dwain Chambers (two years), Eric Cantona (two months) and Rio Ferdinand (eight months) for their various sporting misdemeanours – Richards expressed genuine remorse and regret about the affair that cost him so much. Four months on, he says he has "mellowed." Does he feel he has drawn a line under Bloodgate now, though?
"Well, it's nearly four years ago, isn't it? So I'll probably say 'yes,'" Richards replies. "People tend to forget that it's nearly four years ago. It's just that the sanction went on a little bit longer than you'd think. But, yeah, there's a line drawn under that, most definitely."
With the backing of local businessman Semore Kurdi, Richards has gone about his rebuilding mission at Kingston Park with a little cross-border influence. The man who was famously punished for larking about with the Calcutta Cup has the sons of two former Scotland internationals in his ranks – lock Sean Tomes and scrum-half Rory Lawson, who played for the Scots against Tonga last month – plus the former Scotland forwards Ally Hogg and Scott Macleod.
"We have got a Scottish influence here but perhaps not to the extent we could do," Richards says. "The foremost thing is we're English, though. To have a nucleus of English-qualified players is a goal and an ambition of mine, because what it will do is bring a culture – an English culture as well, which is something we're very keen on."
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