Premiership’s shortest off-season ends the longest wait as Newcastle Falcons set out to smash expectations

The club starts the season off as odds-on relegation favourites, with Worcester Warriors and London Irish the next at risk on a list that is fairly generous on 20/1 shot Leicester Tigers. But Richards will not have any talk of being relegation favourites at Kingston Park this season, and as long as injury doesn’t intervene, he believes even without Sinoti Sinoti the club have enough in the tank to survive come May.

“I think you probably would have made us relegation favourites but we don’t think we are at all,” he added. “On paper we’ve got a good enough squad, we just need to get them on the field.

“The build up hasn’t been great, the long lay-off to begin with and a slightly fragmented pre-season because we had a few cases which took 30-odd people out of training (due to close contact) for two weeks. So the whole thing has been fragmented in the approach, but having said that we’re in, we’re training and we’ve got a couple missing but when everybody is back I think on paper we’ve got a very good squad and there’s no way that we feel we deserve the label that we have been given.

“There’s a lot of boys with a huge amount of Premiership experience so it’s almost falling back into the understanding of what it takes to win. A lot of those boys were around when we finished fourth a couple of years ago so I’m not too concerned with that.

“With the experience that I’ve got in the coaching team with Nick Easter coming in and Dave Walder, and Micky (Ward) and Scotty (Macleod) still there, that doesn’t change too much to be honest with you. There’s a really understanding of what it takes to win in the Premiership.”

Richards’ caution over the health of his squad stems from their pre-season double-header against Ealing last week, with the former Championship rivals sharing the spoils as a 38-17 defeat on the road reversed into a 21-12 home win for Newcastle. England flanker Mark Wilson will not feature over the course of the opening weeks due to injury while Cooper Vuna, the Tongan international likely to replace Sinoti Sinoti, is sidelined along with promising wing Morgan Passman.

Richards hopes that the Ealing double-header will help get his side up and running quicker than it took the rest of the Premiership following rugby’s lockdown lay-off though. “Looking at the previous bunch of games it took those boys about three or four games to get into the swing of things so hopefully having had these two warm-up games against Ealing it won’t take us three or four games, maybe just one or two games if not straight into the game this weekend. But we’ll wait and see, the proof will be in the pudding and we’ll see what happens.”

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