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The Deano personality clash advice that Walder has never forgotten

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

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With the curtain soon set to fall on Dean Richards’ decade-long run in charge at Newcastle, bringing an end to his 24-year career in the game as a director of rugby, the soon-to-be Falcons boss Dave Walder has explained one particularly valuable lesson he has learned while earning his stripes on the sidelines under his fellow ex-England international.

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There is a 14-year age difference between the pair, Richards being a 58-year-old former back-rower with 48 England caps compared to the 44-year-old Walder, the former out-half who won his four England caps in the early noughties under Clive Woodward.  

An ex-Falcons player, Walder finished out his playing career at Wasps and then in Japan before Richards appointed him as kicking coach at Newcastle. He was promoted to attack coach in 2015 and having been head coach since 2017, he will now succeed Richards as the director of rugby for the 2022/23 season. 

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Joel Kpoku | Le French Rugby Podcast | EP 30
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This latest promotion represents a huge step up for Walder. “Twenty-four years down the line, I can’t imagine two years down the line at the moment with all the stuff that is going on, but it is all part and parcel of growing and learning and Dean has been a good person to learn off to be fair,” he told RugbyPass ahead of Saturday’s final Kingston Park home match for Richards, a fixture that ironically sees his old club Leicester visiting the northeast.

With Richards having been such a good person to learn from, someone that Walder explained challenges people in a good way but other times just lets his staff get on with it, is there a standout example regarding what the Newcastle head coach has absorbed over the years from his long-serving director of rugby? 

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“He just asks regularly what we are doing, keeping you on your toes, and if you give him an answer he will sometimes agree with you and sometimes ask if you thought about coming at it from a different angle. The good thing, like any dynamic, is there are discussions and they can get quite feisty. But ultimately once you walk out that door, everybody has got each other’s back and there is complete trust within the group. 

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“Early on – and this is not an example of him challenging me, it’s something I learned from him – there were a couple of players that I maybe struggled with their personality. I said how do you get away from it in selection, picking a certain player that you have a disagreement with or don’t enjoy as a person?

“He said it is very simple, is picking him the right thing to do for the team and if it is you get over it [the personality clash] and you pick him and if it is not (right for the team), you don’t. You take it [personal feelings] out of it and that is something that very, very early on in my time here that he taught me and I always have it in the back of my mind now when we are in selection meetings.”

It was May 6 when Newcastle confirmed there would be a changing of the guard at the club, the Falcons opting to promote from within with Walder rather than source a new boss from outside to replace Richards. The decision suited Walder’s ambition. 

“I have always been the sort of person that enjoys responsibility and I struggle at times doing things which aren’t my idea or my principles or my philosophy and being judged on them. I want to do things my way and if it is not right, I will walk away or I’ll lose my job but ultimately I don’t want to go down on a ship that is not being steered by me.”

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The determination to succeed is clear then, but what would success at Newcastle under Walder look like? “I’d love to see us being competitive up the top end of the league founded around a group of local lads where the majority have come through the academy and generally challenging at the top end of the league rather than sitting in the bottom three, bottom four.”

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