The Mark Laycock verdict on Walder exiting 'emotional' Newcastle
Interim head coach Mark Laycock has held his first media briefing since he was asked on March 13 to take temporary charge at Newcastle through to the end of the season. It was two days after the Falcons lost their fourth successive Gallagher Premiership match away to Exeter that the attack coach was asked to step into the breach after it was decided to relieve head coach Dave Walder of his duties with immediate effect.
It was then Thursday of last week when the decision became public knowledge after the players, who had been on a few days off, returned to training ahead of this Friday’s home game versus Gloucester and they were informed by chairman of rugby Matt Thompson what had happened with Walder.
Laycock has now shed light on what unfolded, telling media on Wednesday lunchtime: “I’m still looking after the attack. Dave has stepped into the background so Mark Wilson has taken on a bit more responsibility on the defensive side, which was the area that Dave was primarily overseeing. So I will still look after the attack and take a bit more added responsibility around team selection, planning, what we do for the week.
“There has been nothing negative. Everyone has been really supportive, externally and internally. Obviously, it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster over the last 10 days with everything that has gone on but the staff and the group that we have got here have really pulled together and I have been really impressed by everyone’s attitude going above and beyond to help us try and turn things around.
“I found out on Monday last week what the situation was, the players were off for a couple of days not having a game so on Thursday morning they were called in and we had a meeting to explain the situation.
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“To be honest, everyone had concerns as you would with your head coach moving on, but Mark Thompson came, spoke to everyone, and explained the reasons why and since that point we have had a real focus on looking forward and taking it one step at a time to really drive ourselves forward as a squad.”
Laycock insisted that the cutting loose of Walder wasn’t a cost-cutting measure by Newcastle, who are currently 10th in the 11-team league with just five wins from their 16 matches. “Not as far as I am aware, Dave and the club had been negotiating around the future, his future at the club and unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on where it was going to fit.
“So Dave was asked to step back away from the squad and for us to take over in this short period of time while the recruitment process is ongoing. I don’t think it is a case of trying to make cutbacks, it’s more a change in approach and a change in voice we are looking for.”
Is Laycock himself interested in becoming the Newcastle head coach? “I have spoken to the board about the future. My focus is on this week, and we will take it one week at a time until the end of the season. Ultimately my heart is at the club, and I want to help the club achieve its goals in whatever capacity that may be.”
So, what happened in recent weeks that resulted in the exit of Walder? “We felt we were in a pretty good place towards the end of January in terms of our form and we then lost out momentum for a few different reasons,” explained Laycock.
“We were disappointed in our performances over the last couple of weeks. There have been some positives in it but ultimately you are judged on results, and they haven’t been good enough for the bar we have set ourselves.
“We haven’t spoken about a results target. We have spoken about our identity and what we are about and what we want to show the fans. It’s about playing with commitment and ambition and hopefully, those who are there on Friday night will see a little bit of that.
“We have always pulled together in tough times as a squad in the past and I have no doubt that we will continue to do that in the future. Resources are nice to have but they are not necessarily everything and we are quite confident as a group that we can turn things around.”