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'I told them one or two things I'd do differently from day one'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

New director of rugby Dave Walder is full of optimism that his Newcastle can be a bit more consistent this term than they were in recent times under the long-serving Dean Richards. The 59-year-old former England No8 stepped away from the Falcons at the end of 2021/22 following a decade at the helm, clearing the way for the 44-year-old ex-No10 – another England old boy – to take over the whole shooting match after being the head coach since 2017.

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Walder didn’t take long to emphasise to the Newcastle squad that some important things would be done differently on his watch, the new DoR taking the floor on pre-season opening day in July and outlining what life will be like at the Falcons post-Richards.

“That is a bit of a challenge,” admitted Walder to RugbyPass about the task of moving Newcastle on from the whys and wherefores they would have been comfortably accustomed to over the years under their former boss.

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“I have been partly helped by the nature of Dean sort of not being around. To be fair, I was responsible for a lot of the things last year and I am still responsible for now, but it almost gave me a chance rather than me checking in with Dean and seeing if it is how he wanted to do things, now I know I can go my way.

Dean, to be fair, was brilliant with me and never stopped me but I always had to make sure that was the case. Yeah, I still speak to Dean. He is enjoying himself at the moment. He is always on the end of a phone. He is fishing and golfing… he’s in good form.

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“To be honest, at the start of pre-season I got up in front of the players and told them one or two things that I would do differently from day one in terms of how we announce things and how we interact as a group. We were also lucky enough that things we have been trying to get hold of for a couple of years, small things like a team room, we have managed to find an area for the players to socialise a little bit more. Lots of little things like that have helped me but the reality is we won’t know if it has worked until the games start.”

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That happens this Saturday when the visit of Harlequins to Kingston will offer an immediate chance to compare the Walder and Richards regimes. Opening day last season was the very same fixture, with the Londoners visiting to win 32-21 and the interest is piqued to see if they can improve on that nine-point loss.

They will be hard-pressed from the perspective that pre-season hasn’t been kind. A total of 22 players are listed as unavailable for selection, some due to Rugby Championship duty for Argentina but mostly because of injury. It’s a throbbing headache but Walder is nothing but optimistic that those wearing the jersey versus Harlequins can definitely be relied upon to perform.

“We have had a pretty rough time of it. I don’t want to sit here and say it’s alright, the injuries. It is what it is. The squad is set up in a certain way and there were probably one or two guys who had things lingering over at the end last season that we maybe weren’t ready for which has set them back, but we have got a good group of guys that all muck in and are very proud of the club we represent and will give our all on Saturday.”

Asked what especially gives him confidence that 2022/23 will be a positive season for Newcastle, Walder answered: “The group of players we have got and actually stripping back to what is important for north-east people. We spent a bit of time in pre-season talking about the area.

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“The players have found out a little bit more about what has made the north-east tick over the years – the hard work ethic and the gritty attitude that we have got. As I say, we have got a group of players that embody that and we feel that we are pretty tight on the journey of going down that route.”

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