As the sun sets on Scrumdown for another year, our final column of 2012 picks out the five most significant moments for Newcastle Falcons
ONLY 12 days of 2012 had elapsed when news of Alan Tait’s departure as head coach was announced, South African Gary Gold taking interim charge until the end of the season.
Following a 16-10 home defeat to Exeter which left his side nine points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, Tait was typically open about his own future prospects after a year and a half at the helm.
The Scot said: “I have to analyse my own contribution, which I will do, and I will have a talk with the owner once I have done that.
“The knives are out and rightly so. We have not won an important game at home. I am the man in charge and I take responsibility.”
Four days later the decision was taken for him, Falcons’ owner Semore Kurdi telling Tait to “take a break from rugby.”
It is a break he is yet to return from, but the change did improve Newcastle’s form as Gold’s simplified gameplan and increased budget combined to help them win four of their final eight league games.
Mike Ford’s defensive organisation and John Wells’ forward acumen might not have brought flowing rugby, but with such a short timeframe they never pretended otherwise.
Irish veteran Peter Stringer was signed to add the half-back class Tait had so desperately searched for, and for all that results improved after his departure it would be remiss not to credit the Scot for laying much of the groundwork.
Hindsight has shown he was out of his depth in the top job where managing egos, politics and budgets took up so much of his time, but his ongoing absence from rugby is a loss to the game.
MUCH of Alan Tait’s last few months in the job had been spent fending off speculation star fly-half Jimmy Gopperth was set to leave Kingston Park at the end of the season.
The timing of the uncertainty could not have been worse with the Falcons bogged down in a relegation scrap, and all signs did seem to be pointing towards an exit for the Kiwi marksman.
London Irish looked in pole position with Gloucester unable to meet wage demands reportedly in the region of £300,000 a year, but the combination of Gold’s arrival and results improving saw the two-time Golden Boot winner committing to a new three-year deal.
Crucially, the player let it be known the contract included no relegation release clause, pumping much-needed fuel on to their recruitment fire and setting the stage for a number of team-mates to follow suit with new deals.
RUGBY fans across the region woke up on March 14 to the shock news that Dean Richards would become Newcastle Falcons’ new director of rugby when his three-year coaching ban expired five months later.
The Journal exclusively broke the story on its front and back pages, with Richards (pictured right) giving an in-depth interview outlining his desire to take the club forward and showing remorse for the Bloodgate scandal which had led to his three-year suspension.
Like Gopperth, he was quick to insist his move to the North East was not conditional on them retaining Premiership status, sitting as they were eight points adrift with five league games remaining.
His previous misdeeds had no apparent bearing on the club’s supporters, with near-unanimous backing from the rank and file. National media soon latched on to The Journal’s scoop with Richards, who had given a detailed interview from the Northumberland country pub owned by Falcons’ owner Semore Kurdi.
TV crews camped outside Kingston Park to catch a glimpse of the new appointment who, at the same time, was looking out over the Tyne Valley selecting his picks for the Cheltenham Festival.
RATHER than the swift relief of a bullet through the brain, the worst torment for Newcastle Falcons was the fact their Premiership fate was allowed to drag out long beyond the last kick of the season.
They travelled down to Wasps on May 5 needing the rugby equivalent of snookers and even a 14-10 win at Adams Park was not enough to prevent them from finishing the campaign on the bottom of the Premiership pile.
As the players trooped off the field in High Wycombe, they remained none the wiser as to which league they would be playing in the following season.
The matter remained unresolved for another eight weeks, during which time they were effectively relegated, reprieved, in limbo and then relegated again.
The uncertainty was down to Championship winners London Welsh trying and failing to pass the top-flight’s minimum standards criteria benchmark, a ruling they did not take lying down.
With the lawyers circling and a High Court appearance looking inevitable, the circus was finally brought to a close on June 29 when an RFU appeals panel ruled London Welsh could indeed ascend into the Premiership, sealing the Falcons’ demotion.
Newcastle retained a dignified silence throughout the entire ordeal, and were already month into their pre-season training when the verdict was eventually reached.
It was a saga which brutally exposed the sport’s inability to administer its own regulations but, as the top-flight’s bottom club, the Falcons took their medicine with good grace and got on with plotting a course for a swift Premiership return.
NOT only did the Falcons reach the midway point of the Championship season 12 points clear and unbeaten in cup action, they even beat an entire nation.
It was on November 13 Tonga arrived at Kingston Park, less than a fortnight before they humbled Scotland in a game which would cost head coach Andy Robinson his job.
The hastily-arranged friendly was worthy of note in itself as Kingston Park hosted full international opposition for the first time, but more so for crystalising the entire season so far in the space of 80 minutes.
Having faced down the pre-match Sipi-Tau war dance, within the opening minutes a much-changed Newcastle line-up were a try behind and looking like rabbits in the headlights.
That was until a stirring last hour in which they dominated their illustrious visitors, playing with width and an attacking abandon rarely seen in these parts.
Few who were there will forget an epic night as they triumphed 24-13 against a country ranked 11th in the world.
They had arrived back on the big stage, and they were loving it.