For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Falcons' future on a knife-edge with two games left
IGNORE the realities of the league table, and it is not hard to envisage a positive future for Newcastle Falcons.
New owner Semore Kurdi has impressive visions for the club and has put his money where his mouth is since replacing former chairman Dave Thompson.
Dean Richards has agreed to take over the managerial reins once his 'Bloodgate' suspension expires this summer, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the former England international's conduct at Harlequins, he remains one of the most talented coaches in the country.
And star man Jimmy Gopperth has signed a new three-year contract at Kingston Park, ensuring Falcons will continue to benefit from the services of arguably the most reliable goal kicker in English rugby.
Three major reasons why the future could be bright. But the sad reality is that none of them will matter a jot if things do not go to plan in the final two matches of the season.
The first takes place tonight, with Falcons hosting Saracens, and a defeat will almost certainly result in relegation from the Aviva Premiership.
Win, however, and Newcastle's fate could be in their own hands when they travel to relegation rivals London Wasps for their final fixture.
Unlike Wasps, who would almost certainly enter administration if they were to finish bottom, relegation would not mean the end for Falcons.
Kurdi, a Jordanian businessman who has lived in Newcastle since he was a child, has pledged to provide the financial support for a season in the Championship, and the club have already tied up enough senior players to suggest they would be able to field a side capable of sweeping through the second tier.
Crowds would drop, but Kingston Park has hardly been packed to the rafters in the last couple of seasons, and a winning side would boast attractions of its own.
At some stage, and probably no more than 12 months later, Falcons would expect to return to the top-flight. But by that stage, the damage would already have been done.
Relegation would deal a hammer blow to attempts to grow professional rugby union in the North-East and would diminish Newcastle Falcons' status in a region that offers plenty of competition when it comes to sporting attractions.
After enjoying almost instant success at the start of the professional era, Newcastle have had to fight tooth and nail to keep up with the established big boys of the English game.
That they have done so with average crowds hovering around the 5,000 mark is remarkable, and it is chastening to compare Falcons' budget with the funds available to the likes of Saracens, Leicester and Harlequins.
The salary cap helps ameliorate some of that disparity, but Newcastle are still competing on an uneven playing field, and relegation would only accentuate the imbalances that separate them from a number of their rivals.
Income in the Championship is vastly reduced, and while a parachute payment offers limited protection, budgets would still have to be radically redrawn.
The absence of a top-flight side in the region would reinforce the stereotype that this is 'not a rugby part of the world' and feed into a wider north-south divide that is a major headache for the RFU given the struggles of Leeds Carnegie and Sale Sharks in recent seasons.
And even if promotion was achieved, attracting players in the future would be more difficult if Newcastle were to be saddled with the tag of a yo-yo club, too good for the Championship but of insufficient quality to finish in the top half of the Premiership table.
Quite simply, it is a headache the club could do without, even if they can hardly complain that they have not seen it coming.
For the most part, this has been a wretched campaign, and the only signs of life emerged when Alan Tait departed as director of rugby in January.
Tait won just six of his 36 league matches in charge, and if Kurdi is to preside over a Championship club next season, he will surely reflect that he left it too long before easing the former dual international aside.
Gary Gold did not bring about an immediate improvement - the problems he inherited were too deep-rooted for that - but it is no coincidence that Falcons' best spell of the season has come under the South African.
The arrival of ex-England coaches Mike Ford and John Wells has also helped, and it is telling that Newcastle's pack has been completely transformed in the last two matches.
The first saw Falcons scrape a narrow home win over Sale, but it is last weekend's emphatic away win at Gloucester that has sparked hopes of a dramatic escape.
Given that tonight's opponents, Saracens, are reigning champions and already assured of a place in the play-offs, Newcastle will have to be every bit as good again to achieve a positive result.
Anything less than a victory, and they will be left at the mercy of Wasps' trip to Bath tomorrow, a game that could then relegate them.
Win tonight though, and the stage will be set for a thrilling finale on May 5.
Comments are closed on this article.