EXCLUSIVE: Bad blood is in the past as Richards aims for the top again with resurgent Newcastle
22:30 GMT, 21 December 2012
Four months into his second coming as a coach and Dean Richards has had a perfect return; 15 wins from 15 games with Newcastle and not one jibe about the reason for his ‘sabbatical’.
In the depths of his post-Bloodgate exile, when the three-year ban he had to serve surely felt like a lifetime of pain and punishment, this scenario would have been nothing more than an idle fantasy.
Yet, the legendary former England and Lions No 8 is now at the forefront of a promising salvage operation on Tyneside and relishing an unexpectedly warm embrace from the game he adores and missed so much.
Turnover: Richards is rebuilding at Newcastle after the shame of Bloodgate
‘I’ve not had one comment about the past, which is quite strange,’ said Richards. ‘I had been expecting something, but there has not been a single remark, which is bizarre. Sorry, I should qualify that – I’ve not had one negative comment about it, which is slightly different. People have commented, but seem to be accepting me for what I am. A lot of people have said how pleased they are that I’m here.’
The welcome he has received, at his own club and elsewhere, has touched Richards. That has been the bonus element in this reintegration process. But the principal source of satisfaction stems from simply being involved again, day after day, and seeing lots of hard graft paying off in the results that have followed, even if, on a personal level, he has taken time to get his bearings.
‘I love it,’ he told Sportsmail, after overseeing a training session at Kingston Park in the build-up to Sunday’s home Championship clash with London Scottish. ‘Being around a team again has given me a real buzz. It is one of the things that you miss, when you have your – sabbatical. I had my three years out and missed that involvement. Now I’m back, I’m enjoying the buzz, I love being around players and coaches, being around a winning team.
‘I had watched a lot, but there is no doubt there was a huge amount of rustiness; there still is. You don’t get up to speed straight away, but I’ve got enough quality people around me who have pushed me in the right direction.’
He feels he’s changed, too, although he doesn’t believe that has anything to do with his exit from Harlequins in 2009.
everything I’ve been through in the last few years, I’m a bit more
relaxed on match day,’ said Richards. ‘Wellsy (forwards coach John
Wells) finds it very frustrating because he has gone totally the other
way! He is far more animated and I’m there with my feet up, just
watching and analysing. I’m not very demonstrative in the changing rooms
either, rather than bringing out the old hair-dryer!’
Scandal: Richards clashes with Leinster coaches after bringing Nick Evans back on the field in 2009
BACK FROM THE SIN BIN: THE RETURN OF RICHARDS
AFTER being banned from coaching for three years following the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal, Dean Richards is back and eyeing promotion with Newcastle. Here are the key stats for the former England forward.
Born: July 11, 1963
Clubs: Roanne, Leicester
England caps: 48 Lions caps: 6
Coaching career: Leicester, FC Grenoble, Harlequins, Newcastle
Coaching honours: 4 Premiership titles, 2 Heineken Cups
This is his second such assignment – trying to conjure an immediate return to the Premiership. In 2005-06, his first season at Quins, he took them straight back up. Richards is now helping the Falcons fly again, as they try to build on a 12-point lead at the top of the Championship table.
‘When I arrived at Quins, the fanbase was down to 3,500-4,000 per game; it has been very similar here,’ he said. ‘With the success we had that year and hopefully the success we have this year, the fans will come back.
‘It is similar in terms of the mental state of people when I arrived. A lot of people were very down; the club had gone down, though it wasn’t until July we knew for sure. Once that news broke, there was a real dropping of jaws and the realisation set in. The main difference is that I arrived at Quins and we had Andre Vos, Will Greenwood, Andrew Mehrtens, Ugo Monye – guys like that who were already in situ. We don’t quite have the leaders here who we had at Quins back then, which made a big difference.’
The contrast that has struck Richards the most is nothing to do with the comparative depth of leadership within his current club and his previous one. It is not the clubs’ markedly different catchment areas – a huge northern region with a low density of ‘chimney pots’, as opposed to a small southern region crammed full of them at Quins.
And it is nothing to do with the gulf in travel times that have played havoc with his fondness to share a post-match beer with the opposition. The most striking contrast has been in the landscape of the league.
There is now a play-off system; semi-finals and a final, on a home-and-away basis. And after London Welsh’s promotion via appeal last summer, there are Minimum Standards Criteria that the Championship clubs regard as redundant. Richards doesn’t hold back in condemning the situation.
Reprieved: London Welsh were promoted to the Premiership on appeal earlier this year
‘The Championship is different now,’ he said. ‘It is a bizarre scenario we find ourselves in – not knowing what is happening until May 29 and this Minimum Standards Criteria rubbish. You can’t plan conditioning, you can’t plan recruitment, no one knows where they stand.
‘It is a very ill-thought out process and whoever came up with it needs speaking to. It doesn’t have the ambience and rugby culture that was evident when I was there with Quins.
‘It has lost something because of what happened last year, which I think is wrong. What the London Welsh scenario means is that it doesn’t matter what facilities and structures are in place, you can just find a club 40 miles away and play there. There is no incentive to build foundations, to have a strong academy, to develop a side and a community and a culture.
‘You have to have a culture and strong roots, yet there is no encouragement to do that from the RFU because of the play-off structure and the Minimum Standards going out the window. It has become a real dog’s dinner. It is quite sad.’
Richards is adamant Newcastle will ‘do things right’. As the business end of the season approaches, he expects several other clubs to recruit heavily to ambush the Falcons in the play-offs, but he will not countenance a similar strategy. He feels the squad is of Premiership standard already.
Richards sets his sights incredibly high. ‘The ultimate goal is to win the European Cup,’ he said. ‘It will take a few years, but there’s no reason why we can’t get up there.’
Positive thinking, a long winning run and no negative comments about ‘the past’ – a perfect return indeed.