HEAD coach Peter Russell is heartened by the fact that Newcastle Falcons remain on the international radar, despite dropping down a division.
With Rory Lawson in the Scotland picture, Suka Hufanga away with Tonga and Taiasina Tu’ifua in the Samoan squad, Russell said: “It is good to see that the international coaches are recognising how much talent there is, even at Championship level.
“They haven’t shut the door on guys like Rory for Scotland, and it is helping us because players know that by signing for Newcastle they are not putting themselves out of the reckoning for international honours.
“Ally Hogg is the one that continues to bemuse us, because he should be in the Scotland squad. He is the stand-out loose-forward in the competition and it is tough on him at the moment, but he can’t do any more than play the way he is at the moment.”
With Lawson recalled by Scotland almost a year on from his last Test cap at the Rugby World Cup, Russell said: “Rory brings a huge amount of organisation and experience.
“He may not have the wheels of some players, but the head is still in perfect working order and you cannot manufacture that.
“We are very lucky to have a player of his calibre at Newcastle, and he provides a huge amount of drive, direction and good information.”
Russell will be at Murrayfield when Scotland tackle his native New Zealand on Sunday, saying: “We have a Falcons training session on the morning after playing Nottingham this Friday, but I will be jumping in the car straight after and heading up to Edinburgh.”
Expecting the All Blacks to once again give a strong showing in the northern hemisphere, the head coach added: “They will be looking to kick some backside and, while November is certainly an opportunity for teams like England to sneak a surprise, I just can’t see it.
“I actually think what you will find with New Zealand is that they use this tour to blood a few newer guys.
“They will think of it as a learning experience, and it is looking forward now rather than just going with all the guys they already know.
“The northern hemisphere countries haven’t played since the June tours, so they will obviously be worse off on that front, whereas the Tri-Nations and Argentina have been playing throughout with the Rugby Championship.” Now well into his tenure at Newcastle after flying in from his homeland, the former Hawke’s Bay boss has helped the Falcons to a 10 from 10 record in competitive action as they remain unbeaten in both the Championship and the British and Irish Cup.
Revealing his overall impressions of the English experience, Russell said: “It has been dour, cold – no, I’m only joking, of course!
“I have absolutely loved my time in Newcastle so far, and it is a brilliant place.
“It is a part of the world I hadn’t been to before, but it is where my ancestors are from, so it is good to find out about that and broaden your horizons.
“You come over here and see buildings built in the 11th century, and that is history for you when I have come from a relatively young country in comparison, as I do.”
Denied the opportunity of one sight-seeing excursion, however, he added: “We went up to Alnwick Castle the other day – the old Harry Potter Castle as a lot of people probably know it – but we were gutted to find it was closed for the winter.
“I am sure we will get in there at some stage during our stay, but there is history all around the area and we have really enjoyed getting about and taking in as much of it as we can.”