The latest in the RugbyPass 15 for 10 series takes a look at Newcastle Falcons, with the former Gallagher Premiership side currently top of the Greene King IPA Championship side and looking a strong bet to return to the top tier at first time of asking.
Like the previously profiled London Irish, it’s been a tumultuous decade for the Falcons having spent two seasons in the Championship as well as being in a perennial relegation battle with the likes of Irish, Worcester Warriors and Bristol Bears.
A highlight of the 2010s was finishing fourth in the 2017/18 season and qualifying for the playoffs – with a number of that side making our all-decade XV – although the club were swiftly brought back down to earth as they suffered relegation the following season.
- Alex Tait
A battle between two of Newcastle’s most productive homegrown players, we have Tait’s longevity and consistency at the club just edging out the livewire Simon Hammersley, now of Sale Sharks. The 31-year-old is closing in on 250 appearances for the side from the north-east and his versatility to cover across the back three has been invaluable.
- Vereniki Goneva
Some suggested that Goneva was passed his best when Newcastle signed him for Leicester Tigers, though he quickly proved them wrong upon arriving at Kingston Park. His scoring rate of 27 tries in 48 Premiership starts was even more prolific than his mark at Leicester and there is no doubt that he played one of the most pivotal roles in delivering a playoff appearance for Newcastle in 2018.
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- Chris Harris
A product of the thriving amateur club and university scene in the north-east, Harris spent five productive years with Newcastle before making the move to Gloucester this past summer. His performances for the Falcons drew the interest of Gregor Townsend and Scotland, for whom Harris currently has 14 caps.
- Juan Pablo Socino
An honourable mention for Adam Powell’s career swansong, though Socino was an architect of Newcastle’s brief rise from Premiership relegation candidates to a side that could beat any opponent on their day. The Argentine playmaker was sorely missed when he made the move to Edinburgh in 2018 and was arguably the most consistent midfield presence for the club since the days of Jamie Noon.
- Sinoti Sinoti
Goneva’s partner in crime, Sinoti has been raiding up and down Premiership wings for a number of years. His try rate is not as prolific of that of his Fijian colleague, but the Samoan frequently put his team into good situations by drawing and beating defenders, before making big gains and putting his side on the front foot.
'Being an outpost up north, it’s really important to keep pushing rugby because it’s something that sits behind football and it forever will'
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- Jimmy Gopperth
A strong case has been put forward by Joel Hodgson, though Gopperth’s consistency and unerring boot were particularly important in the early part of the decade following Toby Flood’s departure for Leicester. The New Zealander has gone on to shine for Leinster and Wasps and had he had a better side around him earlier in the decade up in the north-east, who knows how well Newcastle could have done?
- Sonatane Takulua
There is strong competition from stalwart Mickey Young and international Mike Blair, but neither can quite match the impact that Takulua has had. Like Goneva, Sinoti and Socino, Takulua was at the heart of that march up the table later in the decade and was a centrepiece of a side that was capable of beating anyone on their day. From lightning darts around the fringes to a reliable source of points from the boot, Takulua has been indispensable for Falcons.
- Rob Vickers
One of the most dedicated servants to Newcastle over the past decade, Vickers made over 250 appearances for the club in the front row, initially as a hooker before transitioning over to loosehead prop. A product of Durham University, Vickers is another example of the strong university links in the north-east profiting Falcons.
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— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) December 16, 2019
- George McGuigan
McGuigan burst onto the scene as an impressive age-grade player with Ireland in the early part of the decade before going on to win the starting jersey at Newcastle and push for England representation. A two-season stint at Leicester didn’t pan out as he would have hoped, though he did win two England Saxons caps, and the hooker is now back at the centre of the Newcastle front row.
- Kieran Brookes
Brookes continues the theme of impressive young front rowers produced by Newcastle chancing their arm elsewhere, first with Leicester before subsequent moves to Northampton Saints and Wasps. Alongside those stints, however, were two with Newcastle, arguably where he has played the best rugby of his career. It was in that second stint with Falcons, too, that Brookes won the first of his 16 England caps.
- Tim Swinson
The Scotland lock joined up with Newcastle during his time at Newcastle University and went on to make 120 appearances for the former Premiership club before making the move to Glasgow Warriors in 2012. Those final couple of years with Newcastle were among his best and put him solidly in contention for Scotland caps, something which was likely influential in his decision to move north of the border.
- Dom Barrow
Like McGuigan and Brookes, Barrow shone as a youngster for Newcastle before deciding to make the move to the East Midlands and join Leicester. The abrasive second row was being talked about as a potential England lock during his two seasons with Newcastle and although his career has since changed trajectory, it does not diminish the influence he exerted in the north-east.
- Mark Wilson
In the conversation with Vickers for the most committed player to Falcons over the past decade, Wilson bucked the trend and showed everyone else at the club that if you play well enough, England will come calling. Deemed an ‘unfashionable’ club for international selection, Wilson’s consistency and physical play for the club was too much for Eddie Jones to resist and the flanker was a valuable member of the England squad that recently made it to the final of the World Cup.
- Will Welch
Gary Graham and Nili Latu both deserve honourable mentions here for their shorter-term impact. However, it is a relatively easy decision to go with Welch. He has gone stride for stride with Wilson in the Newcastle back row and although he hasn’t enjoyed the international recognition that Wilson has, his influence on the club has been every bit as significant.
- Allister Hogg
One of a number of Scottish internationals to call Newcastle home over the past decade, Hogg arguably surpassed them all in terms of his contribution to the club. He, Wilson and Welch formed a formidable back row for a number of years and though the fortunes of the team overall were largely on a lower ebb in that period, they were consistently able to go toe-to-toe with opposition sides in the back row.
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