Leeds look to ruin the party for ambitious Newcastle

Newcastle Falcons yesterday continued recruiting for their anticipated return to the Premiership with three signings – all with a mixture of top-flight and international experience.

Calum Green

Scott Lawson and Phil Godman, both Scotland internationals, join from London Irish and London Scottish respectively, while Fraser McKenzie moves to Kingston Park from Sale Sharks.

They add to the transfer coup from last week of Andy Saull – the Saracens No 7 earmarked as a potential answer to Stuart Lancaster’s lack of depth at openside – which further illustrates Newcastle’s determination to be a force on their return to the elite.

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Only, they are not there yet, and as Diccon Edwards, the Leeds head coach, mischievously pointed out last week ahead of the final round of regular-season fixtures: “They’ll make a very strong side in next year’s Championship.”

The two meet in the the promotion play-off semi-final with the Falcons yesterday choosing to play the first leg at Headingley Carnegie on Monday, May 6 (3.15pm), with the return game at Kingston Park set for Sunday, May 11 (1.15pm).

Newcastle are entitled to prepare for a Premiership return with a series of bold signings, but Leeds are equally within reason to fancy their chances of ruining their plans. Dean Richards’s side won 21 straight games before losing on the final weekend of the season to Bristol – a result that conversely almost ended Leeds’s season.

But Carnegie themselves held on for a nervy win over Nottingham that prolonged their campaign for another two games at least, and took their recent tally of wins to six.

They are the division’s form team, even if the gap between themselves and Newcastle was a massive 31 points. Even second-placed Nottingham trailed home 24 points behind.

Despite the chink in the armour Bristol exposed on Saturday, no-one could get close to Newcastle.

Hence the lavish planning for next season, which is in stark contrast to Leeds who are building through their academy and enhancing that with the acquisition of promising talent from around the country.

One such player is Calum Green, man of the match in Saturday’s win over Nottingham and a bedrock of the forward pack since joining from Leicester Tigers last summer.

For the second-row forward, a buoyant Leeds will be the measure of a Newcastle side that is no longer sweeping all before them.

“We knew they were beatable anyway,” said the 22-year-old, who like the majority of the squad that will head into the play-offs, is contracted at Headingley next season.

“We only lost to them by four points at Otley, plus Bedford and Nottingham have pushed them close so we’re not really going to read too much into it. We’ll stick to our own planning and preparation and worry about what we’re going to do, and that’s all.

“Newcastle are a good team and will come back fighting from their defeat to Bristol. We know the challenge.

“We’ve got good momentum. After the Doncaster game away when we lost (February 15), we were bitterly disappointed.

“We spoke a lot about that, about what the club and what the players want to get out of this season. Since then we’ve gone six on the bounce and we take that form into the play-offs against Newcastle.”

Green has been part of a forward pack that has benefitted over the last two months from the addition of former Leeds prop Tommy McGee to the coaching staff.

On top of the foundations already laid by Dave Baldwin, the two have been instrumental in providing a strong base on which Leeds’s backline can score points.

“Tommy has come in and made a big impact, especially with the front-row boys,” said Green.

“Dave Baldwin was working hard for us all year, and Tommy just adds that little bit extra which is really good for us.

“Having two people like Dave and Tommy has worked wonders for the forwards.

“We’ve been working hard the last couple of months on our scrum and it paid off against Nottingham.

“At Bedford away we did really well as a pack and we took that into the Nottingham game.

“We knew Nottingham would front up, that they would bring their experience and that’s exactly what happened.

“But we really knuckled down to the challenge and rose to it.”

England have confirmed that their summer tour to South America will begin in Montevideo, Uruguay, on June 2.

The Six Nations runners-up will meet a CONSUR XV representing the South American nations, before playing two Tests against Argentina.

The first Test will be staged in Salta – the setting for the Pumas’ 24-22 victory in 2009 – on June 8 and at Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires on June 15.

It will be the first two-match series between the teams in Argentina since the 1997 tour with England coach Stuart Lancaster set to name his squad in early May.

Lancaster said: “Argentina is a formidable rugby nation and we’re looking forward to back-to-back Tests, which a young and developing side will need to be at its very best to win.”