Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Bates Seeking Successful End to Testing Year

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rugby Union: Bates Seeking Successful End to Testing Year

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Douglas

STEVE Bates would be forgiven for bidding 2008 a less-thanfond farewell. Still suffering the final throes of the virulent flu bug that swept through Kingston Park last week, the Newcastle Falcons director of rugby has been up against it pretty much from the moment he assumed control of the Falcons upon John Fletcher's departure in March.

Asked to do a salvage job at a club undermined by off-field instability for the best part of 12 months, Bates has had to be more concerned with fighting fires than establishing a long-term blueprint for success.

The strain that Bates has been placed under has manifested itself on the field, where successes have been at a premium in the Guinness Premiership's most northerly outpost.

Seven wins in 26 games gives the Falcons director of rugby a miserly 27% win ratio since taking over, although the mitigation is so compelling as to render that statistic almost redundant.

Having lost key players like Jonny Wilkinson and Carl Hayman for extended periods to injury, Bates has had to fall back on a squad made up of gifted but inexperienced prospects like fly-half Rory Clegg.

The teenager has made a mockery of his tender years with some compelling displays this season but, as Bates freely acknowledges, asking him to do the job that had been assigned to one of the brightest stars of his rugby generation was always going to be a daunting task.

With a budget shrunk by the prevailing economic climate, there was precious little that the director of rugby could do to replace the likes of Mathew Tait and Toby Flood over the summer either. His most high-profile signing, the exciting Tongan Tane Tu'ipoluto, is still getting to grips with life in England.

At least Bates and his Falcons have a chance to end their annus horribilis on a high when they take on Worcester tomorrow in a game in which victory is essential in the context of an increasingly competitive battle to stay in the division. …

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