Can the Falcons Take Flight?
Newcastle Falcons will begin the new Gallagher Premiership season with many new faces at the club. Following the departure of former head coach Dave Walder towards the back end of last season, and before that Dean Richards, who stepped down as head coach after ten years in the role, the Falcons were always going to be prioritising a new head coach. In April, following Walder’s departure, it was announced that Alex Codling would take over as new head coach, having spent the 2022/23 season at French side Oyonnax, having secured promotion to the Top 14 after beating Grenoble in the play off final last year.
Although not being a familiar name within the rugby scene, Codling does have creditable coaching experience, working at the likes of Ealing Trailfinders as head coach, forwards coach at Harlequins and assistant coach to the English national team in the summer of 2021. Codling will work alongside the experienced Mark Laycock and Micky Ward, attack and forwards coaches respectively, as well as the new appointment of former Wales and Ospreys hooker Scott Baldwin, who will oversee defence. Baldwin, capped 37 times by Wales, joined the Falcons in the summer and brings a wealth of experience having played in the URC over 100 times for the Ospreys, and he was also a Gallagher Premiership title winner with Harlequins in 2021.
On the pitch, the Falcons have recruited smartly over the summer which was certainly needed following the departures of some key players in mid season last year, with the likes of George McGuigan (Gloucester), Trevor Davison (Northampton Saints) and Nathan Earle (Ealing Trailfinders) all leaving in what turned out to be a tough few months for the Falcons. The Falcons also released Greg Peterson (Glasgow), Sean Robinson (Kyuden Voltex), Logovi’i Mulipola (Montpellier), Micky Young (Toulon), Carl Fearns (Carcassonne), Gary Graham (Carcassonne) and Tian Schoeman, to name a few who were not offered new contracts by the club.
However, there have been some welcome additions at Kingston Park. Argentinian prop Eduardo Bello, formerly of Saracens, joined as one of the club’s big standout signings of the summer, linking up with fellow Pumas Mateo Carreras, Pedro Rubiolo, Matias Moroni and Matias Orlando after the World Cup. Other additions include Rory Jennings and Hugh O’Sullivan, both formerly of London Irish, Bryan Byrne, Michael Van Vuuren, Cameron Hutchinson, Kiran McDonald, Tim Cardall and Sam Cross, to name a few.
It is also worth noting that Newcastle Falcons have kept hold of some of their star players, with the likes of Callum Chick, appointed club captain for this season by Head Coach Alex Codling, signing a new two-year deal, Adam Radwan, Jamie Blamire, Ben Stevenson, Sebastian De Chaves, Elliott Obatoyinbo, Tom Penny and Brett Connon all remaining on Tyneside.
The Falcons have a strong history of academy development. The club has been placed in the limelight over the past few weeks and credited heavily for their talent pool. In particular, Ben Redshaw, who incidentally made his first senior start for the Falcons on Friday night in their victory over Sale Sharks in the Premiership Rugby Cup, Ben Stevenson and Oli Spencer have all recently joined England’s Rugby World Cup training camps in France in preparation for their group stage games against Argentina, Japan and Chile respectively.
Guy Pepper, Freddie Lockwood and Louie Johnson are also three young Falcons worth keeping an eye on this season. Pepper and Lockwood are two very exciting back row forwards looking to make their mark on the game this season, and Johnson a bright and versatile player who primarily plays at fly-half, and can also cover positions across the back line and in the centre, all of which having all come through the junior academy and represented England at age group level.
What Can We Expect?
So what can be expected of the Newcastle Falcons this season? Like any other season, most avid rugby fans and pundits would predict the Falcons to finish bottom of the Gallagher Premiership table. This year feels as though there could be a shift in momentum with new coaching staff and fresh faces building on foundations previously laid at Kingston Park in recent years. Exciting new talent combined with some proven Gallagher Premiership quality provides a sense of optimism ahead of the new season, which, for the Falcons, kicks off with a trip to the Rec to face Bath on the 14th October. The Falcons have made an impressive start to the 23/24 campaign and are currently unbeaten in the Premiership Cup, having won three from three including a well-rounded performance against Premiership rivals Sale Sharks.
Head coach Alex Codling has promised to build a team “founded on hard work and team spirit.” We have already seen in the early part of the new season, an exciting and determined Falcons team with Colding clearly making his mark on his new side. An exciting new coach with a wealth of experience in different leagues and countries around the world, together with some of the Premiership’s, as well as English Rugby’s, brightest talents, I do believe the Falcons will surprise rugby fans this season. Although many fans might write the Falcons off, I hope many are surprised by their undeniable quality, with the likes of Radwan, Carreras, Blamire, Chick, Moroni, Rubiolo, Bello, Orlando and many others, mixed in with valuable experience across the pitch which will be crucial, concocts a very promising picture for Newcastle Falcons. There is no doubt games will be tough and other teams across the league have made some strong additions, however, with their determined ‘True North’ spirit, I’m predicting a positive season for the Falcons.