DEAN Richards is nothing if not a pragmatist, and Newcastle Falcons’ director of rugby was hardly shouting from the rooftops despite his unbeaten league leaders securing themselves a British and Irish Cup quarter-final.
Home advantage is still to play for in Saturday’s final group game at Cross Keys, but for Richards there is still a major itch to be scratched following a below-par 80 minutes.
“We are pleased with the win, but very disappointed and frustrated with the performance,” said the England great, whose team led 7-0 at half-time and won an uninspiring second period by three penalties to two.
“We always think we can do better, but we can undoubtedly say that on the back of this particular game.
“We talked afterwards about our lack of control, inability to take chances, failing to adapt to the referee and basically not playing to the style we said we were going to play.
“We went off-plan again, which was surprising, and people didn’t do what they were expected to do.”
Waisea Luveniyali’s maverick talents can unlock any defence when the mood takes him, but the Fijian fly-half was off-beam in much of his execution and decision-making in a rare first-team start.
Newcastle’s back-line failed to fire on virtually every front, and in the forwards too their total scrummaging and territorial dominance was not converted into points.
Credit for that goes in no small part to a committed and enthusiastic Connacht defence, not to mention some extraordinary interpretations from Scottish official Kevin White.
Richards, not shy of saying so, added: “The under-15s game I watched at Ponteland the other day was handled better than this guy.
“In that respect I was disappointed, and it is probably different interpretations more than anything.
“The Scottish game is refereed in a different way to the English, Welsh or Irish, and speaking to the Connacht coaches afterwards I know they were just as frustrated as we were.
“The players’ discipline in handling all of that was pretty good for the most part, aside from one incident where we threw the ball away in frustration and I take my hat off to the lads for that.
“When you have a referee who is so out of synch with yourself there is still a responsibility to adapt to the officials, or even better try to change his viewpoint. We didn’t do either of those things especially well, but it is difficult when his interpretation of the laws seems so alien to what both ourselves and Connacht are used to.”
Searching hard for positives on a grey afternoon where the rugby matched the weather, Richards added: “We tried Tom Catterick at full-back, he was all right at times and it is nice to have him back on the field.
“Andy Higgins has been in and out with injuries so it was good to get him out there again, and James Fitzpatrick at inside centre did OK and getting boys involved is always useful.”
Taking time to highlight another man-of-the-match performance from Cumbrian flanker Mark Wilson, the director of rugby said: “He was the stand-out player on the field and someone I continue to be impressed with.
“He puts himself around the pitch, he is very industrious, works hard and is a very promising player.
“On the down side we lost Chris York with a pulled hamstring and Carlo del Fava with a dislocated thumb.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS: T Catterick, L Fielden, T Tu’ipulotu, J Fitzpatrick (A Crockett, 68), A Higgins, W Luveniyali (J Hodgson, 58), W Fury (R Lawson, 68); J Golding, R Vickers (M Mayhew, 70), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson, 60), C Del Fava, S MacLeod, M Wilson, W Welch (captain), R Mayhew (C York, 40, J Hudson, 52).
Scorers - Tries: J Golding. Conversions: W Luveniyali. Penalties: J Hodgson 3.
CONNACHT EAGLES: S Macauley (F Gormley, 72), M McCrea (M Fi’fili, 68), T Leader, B Murphy, C Finn, J Carty, D Moore (M Walsh, 68); R Ah You, A Flavin (K O’Byrne, 68), JP Cooney (F Bealham, 31), C Kindregan (U Dillane, 58), D Gannon, TJ Anderson (captain), D Heffernan, A Conneely.
Scorers - Penalties: T Leader 2.
Referee: K White (Scotland) Attendance: 3,819