Bentley fears for professional game in the north

Former British Lions hero John Bentley fears for the future of rugby union at the highest level in the north ahead of tomorrow’s relegation battle between Newcastle Falcons and Leeds Carnegie at Kingston Park.

Bentley was part of the new professional era of star players who helped establish the name of Newcastle Falcons in the late Nineties when he converted back from rugby league and scored 23 tries in the 1996-97 promotion winning season, which remains a club record.

He was part of a star-studded line-up bankrolled by Sir John Hall and, having gained promotion from the second tier, the Falcons went on to win the Premiership at the first time of asking the following season.

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However, darker days have followed with the Falcons finishing in the bottom four for the last four seasons.

They are currently two points ahead of Leeds Carnegie, the club who Bentley now works for as the community marketing manager.

“It is desperately sad to see two clubs who not only represent their city but their region in the Aviva Premiership battling it out for survival,” says Bentley, who also played league for Great Britain.

“I do fear for the game in the north if we are not represented in the top level because I think the game needs a geographical spread across the whole country.

“The team I was part of at Newcastle was like a who’s who of the game and we were able to buy a squad to compete at the top level.

“With the exception of Worcester, I am not sure about the appetite from other clubs to build the infrastructure or spend the money to do that now.

“The game has moved on and we are in danger of undoing a lot of the good work that has gone on to build the brand of the Premiership and the raising of the standards within the game in key areas.

“I realise I am speaking with a vested interest but until you are involved at a club that could go out of the Premiership you don’t appreciate how much damage it can do.”

Bentley will be at Kingston Park tomorrow afternoon and whilst he wishes both teams could survive, he admits he is only hoping for one result.

“I am always made to feel very welcome whenever I go back to Newcastle but I hope that Leeds Carnegie come away with a win. We have not always produced our best performances this season but no-one can question the commitment and desire of this group of players.

“Having looked like Newcastle had pulled away from Leeds, the Carnegie boys have pulled themselves back into the race with wins over Irish and Exeter.

“They are just two points behind now and they need to make sure they continue that good work on Saturday afternoon.”

Newcastle have signed back-row forward Richard Mayhew from Championship club Esher for next season.

New Zealander Mayhew, 25, previously played for Auckland-based North Harbour.

Wasps centre Dominic Waldouck’s hopes of forcing his way into England World Cup contention have been ended by a torn Achilles which will sideline him for six months.