Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Richards excited by top flight challenge

Dean Richards' Newcastle have added real quality to their squad in the close season

Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards is preparing for a fresh start in the Aviva Premiership as he returns to the top flight four years on from the infamous Bloodgate scandal.

Richards led the Falcons to promotion at the first time of asking last season in his first year back in the game following a three-year worldwide ban for his involvement in the faking of a blood injury during Harlequins' Heineken Cup tie against Leinster in 2009.

The 50-year-old was director of rugby of Harlequins at that time, but following his spell out of the game, he returned to immediate success with Newcastle, engineering their rise back to the top with a 49-33 aggregate win over Bedford in the Championship final in May.

Richards will now be looking to achieve what London Welsh failed to do last season - ensure top flight survival - and make Newcastle a force to be reckoned with.

However, the former England and British and Irish Lions number eight remains typically stoic, and is playing down the significance of his return to the top.

"I was more excited going in the Championship last year than the Premiership," Richards told Press Association Sport. "I have done it for years and years in the Premiership.

"The Championship is a slightly different thing but we put that behind us now and look forward. I am pleased to be here and am excited about each individual game and the challenges they will bring."

Newcastle have strengthened during the summer, bringing in players of real calibre including scrum-half Mike Blair from Brive, hooker Scott Lawson from London Irish, fly-half Rory Clegg from Harlequins and England Saxons star Andy Saull from Saracens.

Despite the late finish of the Championship play-offs and final, Richards is pleased with the level of conditioning of his squad and their performances in pre-season.

Although not wanting to read too much into the 21-21 draw against Bath in a recent friendly in Beziers, the result will be food for thought with the two teams meeting at Kingston Park in the season opener on September 6.

"From a conditioning point of view we are not far off and there is still a little bit of work to be done but on the whole we are nearly there," Richards said. "The telling time will be in December and we will see how many injuries we have round then.

"The game against Bath showed some strengths and weaknesses in defence and attack which we have been working on and bits and pieces that we knew we needed to work on but didn't have time because of the short pre-season. It highlighted some things which we will try and put right."

Despite this, Richards is keeping his cards close to his chest about what he hopes to achieve from his return to the Premiership.

"The only target I say to the players is that we try our hardest in every game and try our hardest to get something out of every game," Richards said. "If we can't win then I want a bonus point.

"I get asked by journalists every year, 'Do you have a minimum standard' but the standard is to go and win every game. If you don't then why are you here? If you do do that then it will show with where you finish in the league."

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