12 The Daily Telegraph Monday 31 August 2020 *** Sport Rugby Union other side. I got on with it as best I could. I did manage to bring some gym equipment home but forgot to take any rugby balls. So there was a lot of running up and down a field in Jesmond on my own.” Young insists that the lay-off can only be a positive thing. “Coming back last week enabled us to park the lockdown period and just treat it now as a long, gradual pre-season build-up,” he said. “We’ll have no excuses. All the niggles gone, all the tiredness, so we can crack on.” Newcastle have only just started to come back together, with the playing staff leading the way. There are 400 people on the books at the club, many of those employed in a part-time, match-day capacity. Falcons are not unique in the sporting world in their desire to see spectators allowed back in. Murrayfield had a pilot run with 700 fans admitted for Glasgow Warriors against Edinburgh, while Harlequins’ Premiership match against Bath on Saturday has been designated as a test event. The revenue that will be generated is vital, as is the restoration of the umbilical cord between performer and audience. “Without fans, it’s like having a very highly talented Sunday League team out there, operating in a vacuum,” said Falcons executive director, Mick Hogan, who has been at the sharp end of Covid after spending three days in intensive care at the outset. “I felt a bit rough towards the end of March, took to my bed, thought it was going OK after five or six days and suddenly my breathing was difficult, and I was whisked off to Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. The NHS staff were brilliant, but it’s something I never want to go through again.” Hogan has been closely involved in Premiership initiatives to try to get fans back into stadiums, but recognises that the landscape is still clouded in uncertainty. “We do have a road map here at the Falcons that can get us through next season, but there is no medium to longterm future for clubs without crowds,” he said. “I’m not being blase about what admitting crowds means. Safety is paramount. “That said, we can’t approach the future as a society in absolute fear. There will always be risk. But we have to strive to get things back on the road or society will break down economically. Furlough has been a lifeline for so many businesses. We had to make drastic adjustments, or we wouldn’t have been around.” The Falcons have long proven themselves as fighters, making the best of their resources, flirting with relegation most seasons yet coming off the canvas two years ago to finish fourth and qualify for the playoffs. Reality and relegation followed the next season. There has been recruitment, with Marco Fuser, the Italy lock, and Argentina centre Matias Orlando, arriving at Kingston Park, while England back-row forward Mark Wilson returns from his loan at Sale. There is another new face, too – former Harlequins No 8 Nick Easter, who has been taken on as a defence and breakdown coach, replicating what he did in Super Rugby for two seasons with Natal Sharks. “I was looking for jobs when Covid struck and it was only a phone call from Dean [Richards, director of rugby], in early July on the eve of me leaving for a family holiday in Portugal that changed the course of things,” said Easter, who has signed a two-year deal. “I have great faith in Dean, who helped make me an England player. There is a real sense of purpose here, a real sense of identity too. Having professional rugby in the North East is so important for the community here and the game at large. I’m relishing the chance to help the cause.” Like everyone at Kingston Park, the Falcons are ready to take flight again. Sale 40-7 Bristol Band of brothers is often used in sport to describe a particularly tightly knit group. The reality for the Sale side who ran riot over a second-string Bristol team to climb to second in the Premiership is that there literally was a band of brothers in the starting line up – no fewer than three sets of siblings. The best-known are the 22-yearold Curry twins – England star Tom and the equally formidable Ben, who admirably captained Sale and who, along with his brother, helped demolish Bristol at the breakdown. They were joined in the pack by another set of identical twins in South Africans Jean-Luc du Preez, who played at lock, and Dan, who rounded out the back row with the
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