Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Hodgson Offers a Glimpse of Future; Falcons Endure Testing Night

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Hodgson Offers a Glimpse of Future; Falcons Endure Testing Night

Article excerpt

Byline: Luke Edwards

Montpellier 32 Newcastle 8 NEWCASTLE Falcons were given a tantalising glimpse of one of the potential new stars of English rugby last night as teenage fly-half Joel Hodgson made an encouraging first start despite the heavy 32-8 Amlin Challenge Cup defeat to Montpellier.

Hodgson stands at the bottom of a very long and very steep learning curve, but there were enough flashes of pure talent here in the south of France to suggest an exciting future awaits him.

The 18-year-old faded in the second half as Newcastle were ripped apart by some fantastic rugby from Montpellier, but this will be a night he will always remember, regardless of the disappointing result at the end of it.

Montpellier were brilliant in the second period and, as a club, they are perhaps a model for Newcastle to follow.

Only formed in 1986, they have risen from relatively modest beginnings to become a genuine force alongside the more illustrious and established rugby names in France.

Seven years after their elevation to the top flight they are pushing for a Heineken Cup place, an achievement Newcastle can only dream of despite years of talking about it.

Newcastle are not short on ambition, but they have more to worry about in terms of relegation in the Aviva Premiership than competing in the top tier of continental qualification.

A vital cash injection from businessman Semore Kurdi has eased their financial worries and gives them more flexibility in player recruitment, but that is only half the battle won.

There is cause for optimism and it will be interesting to see how Alan Tait uses the money over the next 12-18 months, but an average crowd of between 4,500 and 5,500 means they will continue to fall well short of consistently challenging the Premiership big boys.

Without bigger crowds, and the extra revenue generated in terms of advertising and add on sales on a matchday, the club''s modest turnover will continue to hamper them. Despite a huge catchment area, extending from Durham up to the borders and across to Cumbria, and various marketing intiatives the Falcons have gone backwards in terms of attendances.

A recession does not help, and neither does a location in a region infatuated with football, but the club is crying out for fresh impetus in this area. Improvements made off the pitch are just as important as the challenge Tait has to develop the team on it. There are 22 members of the official supporters club out here in the South of France and they, like the hundreds more back home, are desperate to help. All recognise the fundamental problem, poor results at Kingston Park, but they believe more can be done and are frustrated they have not been asked for their input. Financial worries eased, this could be the start of an exciting era for the club, so why not harness the help of those who stand by it through thick and thin? A 1,000 more bums on seats could make all the difference to a club which continues to fail to realise its potential.

That was of little concern to Tait last night and a young side in which former Royal Grammer School pupil Hodgson was only one fresh face. Andy Henderson, Chris Pilgrim, Kieran Brookes and Redford Pennycook were drafted into the starting line up and another rising star, Tom Catterick, came off the bench. …

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