Alex Codling questions Newcastle’s future after demolition by Leicester

Leicester Tigers' Tommy Reffell
Leicester Tigers' Tommy Reffell scored a hat-trick during his side's demolition of Newcastle Falcons - PA/Joe Giddens

Alex Codling questioned the strategic future of Newcastle after the club slumped to their eighth successive league loss.

Newcastle have played eight, lost eight in the Premiership so far this season, with the most recent defeat a 47-3 drubbing at the hands of Leicester on Sunday keeping them glued to the bottom of the table.

While Newcastle head coach Codling insisted after the loss at Welford Road that the spirit and work ethic of his players could not be questioned, he expressed concerns about the composition of the squad he has inherited.

“At no point will I ever criticise the players around their spirit and togetherness,” said Codling, 50, who is in his first season in the North East. “It’s a tough watch and after 25 minutes we’re in a pretty difficult position. It’s tough. I’ve never been in this position before. I detest losing. I take it more personally than anyone.

“Newcastle have got decisions to make going forward around the strategy, because there are some really talented youngsters – but in the short term it makes life difficult. That’s the bare facts of it. I can’t dress it up any other way – but I can’t criticise the players.

“I just work week to week at the moment; I work 100 hours a week. This is a huge challenge, my job is to now try and lift the spirits up again. As painful as it is in the short term, for the long term of the club there are some really talented youngsters. The challenge we have is that we don’t have the experience around them to drop them in.

“You dust yourself down and go again. It’s like a boxer, there are only so many punches you can take, but you keep taking them and hopefully at some point you land a blow.”

Alex Codling questions Newcastle’s future after demolition by Leicester
Alex Codling expressed his worries for Newcastle after a heavy defeat - Getty Images/David Rogers

Asked whether he was in discussions with Newcastle’s executives about the future strategy, Codling said that he was “paid to coach”.

“I respect the club massively, they’ve had to make tough decisions around finances but, ultimately, it becomes really tough when every week you’re coming up against fully stacked teams,” he added. “The difference this year is that the chance to come up against teams during international periods when they rotate has now gone and, while that’s good for rugby, we’re now going against fully stacked teams every week and it makes life harder. In the short term it’s painful, in the long term hopefully it will be good for the club.”

Leicester turn corner – and should soon have Anthony Watson back

Leicester Tigers 47 Newcastle Falcons 3

The whispers before the match were that the curtain had been drawn on Leicester’s early-season blip and the evidence, this bonus-point demolition of Newcastle, confirmed it.

The opposition, admittedly, were the winless Falcons, valiant but overpowered in all areas and who remain rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table, but that is three league wins on the trot for Dan McKellar’s Tigers, who had their four-try bonus secured before half-time – the perfect headwind to blow them into Europe next weekend.

And, with Anthony Watson joining the pre-match warm-up – perhaps, on account of the Baltic conditions as much as anything – the feel-good factor has returned to Welford Road. The England wing, ruled out of the World Cup with a calf injury, is nearing a return for Leicester, in a boost to Steve Borthwick with the Six Nations around the corner.

“Anthony should be available for selection next week,” McKellar said. “This period has been really good for him, allowing him to get his body in the best shape it has been. The rehab coaches have done a tremendous job with him; and he’s very diligent, the ultimate professional. He’s in a position where he’s ready to come back and perform – which is exciting.”

Given the elements, the foundations for Leicester’s victory were always going to be laid by the Tigers’ gritty pack; it was not a day for glitz and glamour. The maul defence, particularly in the first half, was magnificent; so, too, the maul offence – with three of seven tries coming from that domain. Julian Montoya, captain and Puma, was exemplary at hooker while hat-trick hero Tommy Reffell – shades of Neil Back, with his try-scoring escapades – and Jasper Wiese terrorised Newcastle’s breakdown and tight defence from the back row. Dan Kelly, too, showed much more of the form which led to him being tipped as England’s inside centre in waiting, relentlessly plunging into the heart of Newcastle’s midfield – the solidity of which was not helped by the late withdrawal of England under-20 fly-half Louie Johnson in the warm-up.

“What I loved about that performance was that it had Leicester Tigers written all over it,” added McKellar. “Our DNA through and through. That’s most pleasing.”

As for Reffell, he added: “Since he has come back from the World Cup, he has been outstanding and is challenging himself to be one of the best number sevens in the world. If he continues to progress, there is no doubt that he is likely to achieve that.”

The Falcons gave it a decent lash for the opening 10 minutes, Brett Connon opening the scoring off the tee, but as soon as Reffell crossed for Leicester’s opener, the Newcastle dam burst. The Falcons’ conviction could not be doubted but the sorry, inconvenient truth is that their squad – even when injury-free – is a class below the rest of the league. Alex Codling, the Falcons’ head coach, admitted as much after the match.

From Reffell’s opener, the Tigers squeezed Newcastle ruthlessly, and the hosts’ 23-point half-time lead came from four visits to Newcastle’s 22; on each occasion, a try was scored. Reffell added his second with a nifty blindside move and Matt Scott, the centre, picked a peach of a line off Ben Youngs to leave former Tiger Matias Moroni flailing. Wiese darted over from close range to cap the half.

“We always dominate the first 10, 15 minutes,” said Codling. “It’s converting that pressure into points and when you don’t it’s very hard to get momentum back. At no point will I ever criticise the players around their spirit and togetherness. It’s a tough watch and after 25 minutes we’re in a pretty difficult position.”

Soon after the break, Reffell added his third, from the back of a maul with the game over as a contest. Just as well for Newcastle, who had flanker Pedro Rubiolo sent to the sin-bin for a naughty no-arms tackle on Jasper Wiese. Ollie Hassell-Collins did tremendously well to just about cling onto Solomone Kata’s dicey offload to add Leicester’s sixth soon after, with Mike Brown adding a seventh at the death. A nod, too, to referee Sara Cox, who was immaculate – albeit in a wholly one-sided contest.

The victory takes the Tigers above Bristol into seventh, just five points from play-off contention. After the early-season struggles, the corner has been turned. Now, the challenge turns to Europe; and continuing the momentum.