Season Review: Newcastle Falcons
It was a tough season on Tyneside as Newcastle Falcons’ six-year stretch in Gallagher Premiership Rugby was brought to an end.
When all was said and done, Dean Richards’ men found themselves the victims of a thrilling battle for survival, always in the knowledge that from the few, one had to go.
That isn’t to say there were not fond moments to look back on from a nothing-if-not dramatic season, as the Falcons look to return at first time of asking, with an exciting set of youngsters on the rise – but more about that later.
After a fourth-place finish in 2017/18, hopes were high at Kingston Park as the rugby season beckoned once more in September.
But it was to be an opening month to forget for the Falcons, as just one win – a 23-20 triumph at Sixways – represented short change from a set of matches where performances arguably merited more.
And come October results had begun to pick up – Newcastle were impressive both in Europe and the Premiership Rugby Cup, before translating their form into subsequent wins over Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints.
Come the turn of the new year however, trouble was once again brewing in the North East, as defeats at the hands of first Gloucester Rugby and then Bristol Bears brought unhappy tidings.
Salvation remained in the cup, however, as qualification to the knockouts was sealed with a delectable derby-day triumph against Sale Sharks.
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) May 23, 2019
When they missed out on achieving the same in the Champions Cup, however, there followed a troubling spiral of losses: first they were eliminated from the cup, dispatched by Northampton Saints in the semi-finals, before being downed by Bath and Exeter Chiefs in Gallagher Premiership Rugby action.
Entering March, Falcons were in need of something special, and with the chips down, they plucked a little bit of magic from the ether.
A flawless month, they won three from three: first Worcester Warriors, then Wasps and finally Sale fell victim to the resurgent side.
Once again, however, they could not make it stick – when Saracens dispatched them at Allianz Park in the first match of April, it seemed that their March love-affair was confined to history.
An agonising defeat to Leicester Tigers followed, before Saints, Gloucester and Bristol Bears ended their Gallagher Premiership Rugby stay.
That glorious month of March stands out as a beacon in a season of hardship and should give Falcons fans encouragement that their side really can deliver when on-song.
A 17-6 triumph over the Warriors was followed by standout victories against strong Wasps and Sale sides – proof that they can mix it with the best on their day.
Scottish international prop @jonswelsh will pack down with Newcastle Falcons for another two seasons after signing a new deal with the Kingston Park club https://t.co/ldWxECZVsH pic.twitter.com/OSQIIByM6D
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) June 12, 2019
A word, too, for their cup runs: four pool wins from five in the domestic edition saw them to the cusp of the final, before they were felled by eventual winners Northampton.
While in Europe, there was the small matter of victory in Toulon – a result that will live long in the memory of all concerned, in spite of wider contexts.
The Falcons this season were a side blessed with explosive backs – full-back Simon Hammersley one of the standouts among them.
His background in sevens writ large across his game, the Hull-born flyer’s departure to Sale will leave a tough gap to fill in the backfield for the Falcons.
Another who showed searing pace and guile at times was Wasps-bound Zach Kibirige, who graduated from an impressive Premiership Rugby Cup campaign to notch some crucial scores for Newcastle towards the end of the season.
With Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti also showing flashes of brilliance, the Falcons – who lacked not for points – can perhaps count themselves unlucky that they slipped off the top tier.
While Falcons fans may well be downcast at this tough time, they can at least seek solace in the invigorating group of youngsters that are ready to take the next step and fire them back to where they belong.
An emphatic run to the Premiership Rugby Shield final, featuring eight wins from 10 in the pool stages and 423 points scored, underlined the fact that the academy continues to bear fruit.
In Adam Radwan, the Falcons look to have yet another jet-heeled back who will be terrorising defences for years to come in their ranks.
Newcastle Falcons have announced a 19-strong senior academy squad for the 2019/20 season, our biggest ever, with three of last season’s group promoted into the first-team squad https://t.co/1ezis5mDWc pic.twitter.com/lBhvQWGXHd
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) June 13, 2019
He dotted down on no less than 12 occasions in the competition, equalling the all-time record and catching plenty of eyes in the process.
Who’s in for 2019/20?
Richards has wasted no time in adding some stellar firepower to his ranks, with Exeter Chiefs lock Toby Salmon standout among them.
A cup final try-scorer for the Chiefs back in 2018, Salmon adds welcome steel to the Newcastle pack after two years of experience with Exeter.
He will be joined in the second row by former Worcester man Darren Barry, while versatile back Gareth Owen arrives from the Tigers and prop Mark Tampin makes the move from Ealing Trailfinders.
Who’s out for 2019/20
In addition to the influential Hammersley’s departure, Falcons have had to bid farewell to a number of established starters following their relegation.
Exciting young lock Will Whitty heads in the opposite direction to Salmon, linking up with this year’s Gallagher Premiership Rugby losing finalists, while centre Chris Harris heads to Gloucester and Kibirige has joined Wasps.
Glen Young is off south to Harlequins and the Tigers have snapped up Calum Green, while fan-favourite Santiago Socino heads back to his homeland as he joins Jaguares in Argentina.