DEAN Richards has revealed Newcastle Falcons could turn to rugby league in a bid to toughen up their playing squad.
The Falcons have enjoyed mixed results from their in-roads into the 13-man code, their most recent league signing Rikki Sheriffe leaving after less than two seasons at Kingston Park.
Danny Williams, an England international during his time at Leeds Rhinos, earned a second Falcons’ contract after crossing the divide in 2008, but switched back to Super League three years later with Salford Reds via Hull Kingston Rovers.
The club’s 1997-98 title-winning squad had a core of league talent returning to union in the form of Inga Tuigamala, Alan Tait and John Bentley, and their current director of rugby has revealed he could dip into the code once more.
“I like toughness in a side and to have that little bit of an edge,” said Richards, whose Falcons are 16 points clear at the top of the Championship and plotting an immediate return to the top flight following last year’s relegation.
“There is no doubting the fact a lot of the rugby league boys play with an edge most of the time and if I find somebody who has that plus the capabilities you need in rugby union then I would have a look at them.”
Richards’ hugely successful tenure at Leicester Tigers included a handful of forays into the rugby league market, most notably the acquisition of former St Helens and Halifax winger Fereti ‘Freddie’ Tuilagi.
The iconic Samoan blazed the trail for a family dynasty which includes current England centre Manu Tuilagi – Freddie scoring 15 tries in his 81 games as a Tiger between 2000 and 2005.
Steve Booth, Neil Baxter and Gareth Raynor all followed with varying degrees of success, while Richards’ defensive masterminds at Welford Road included league recruits in Phil Larder and Damian McGrath.
Former world-record league signing Graham Steadman was brought in this summer to tighten up the Falcons’ rearguard, although Richards believes the progression of the sport means union can now make similar gains from an attacking perspective.
“We as a sport have learnt a lot from rugby league over the years,” said the director of rugby, whose time at Leicester included four successive Premiership titles and a pair of Heineken Cups. “One of the things we tend to forget is they have been attacking against the flat-line defence for a long time.
“When rugby union first turned professional in the mid 1990s we looked to rugby league from a defensive point of view, with Phil Larder, Shaun Edwards and Graham Steadman coming over, to name just a few.
“Now what we need to understand more seems to be how to unlock those types of defences, especially when more and more teams are increasingly adept at them, and using the expertise of the rugby league guys is one way of doing that.”
England’s national side have employed a similar philosophy, Wigan legend Andy Farrell now an integral part of their management following a successful introduction with Saracens. He will form of the British and Irish Lions’ coaching staff for this year’s Australian tour, although Richards’ own incursions into the 13-man game are more likely to be on the playing front.
“I will look at anybody and everybody, and I am not ruling anything out when it comes to player recruitment,” he said, when asked if he is looking at promising league youngsters or the more senior end of the market.
“It is very rare a forward can cross codes, barring the odd example like Maurie Fa’asavalu at Harlequins.
“Working in his favour is the fact he was a rugby union international before he moved to rugby league, but there are not many out-and-out league guys who have slotted into the forward pack.”