Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

New Boss Will Keep Home Fires Burning

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

New Boss Will Keep Home Fires Burning

Article excerpt

Byline: By Stuart Rayner

Last season English rugby union was at a low ebb, unable to halt the steady demise that seemed to start the moment Jonny Wilkinson landed his kick between the posts at the Telstra Stadium in 2003. But on the final day of the campaign Newcastle Falcons provided those with the national team at heart with a much-needed shot in the arm.

New director of rugby John Fletcher aims to continue the good work in the coming nine months, starting with tomorrow's Premiership opener at Northampton Saints.

Over the course of their short history the Falcons have contributed massively to the national team, providing talismanic World Cup hero Wilkinson, emerging youngsters such as Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait and now new RFU director of elite rugby Rob Andrew, to name but a few.

Andrew's parting gift to Newcastle was the first 22-man matchday squad in Premiership history made up entirely of Englishmen, 12 of them graduates of the club's academy, which Fletcher was then in charge of.

And while Andrew's successor is conscious of the need to produce results first and foremost, he admits he would like to continue the good work the team-sheet against Leeds Tykes represented.

"We select the team based on the quality of the players, not their nationality," Fletcher stresses. "But having said that our policy is to develop English and especially local players to represent the North-East of England in the Premiership.

"We want a strong England team and believe very passionately in that, but while you will see a good representation of English players in our teams we do also realise the importance of quality foreign imports who will always have a place here."

The Falcons' new skipper, Matthew Burke, is a good example. The Australian former World Cup-winning full-back is an inspirational figure in a dressing room once again dominated by home-grown talent.

Thirteen of the side at Franklin's Gardens (plus all seven replacements) will be English, and 10 have come through the club's youth ranks.

It means most already know Fletcher well and that, he believes, has made his job in succeeding Andrew much easier. …

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