I remember the first time I saw Andy Saull play rugby; he was a whirling dervish with tape strapped round his head. He charged about The Recreation Ground for Saracens as though his life depended on it, blending the athletic with the obstreperous. Sarries might have lost to Bath that afternoon in 2009, but Saull kept the home side on their toes throughout the encounter.
Four years on, Saull is still only 24, but has yet to pick up the England cap that many were predicting back in 2009 and 2010. After struggling to pin down the openside flanker berth at Sarries last season, he's now headed to Newcastle in search of more game time.
But he acknowledges he has his work cut out if he is to make the number 7 shirt his own at the Falcons - not least because his rival for the openside slot is the club's captain, Will Welch.
“For me, this season is about playing rugby regularly,” Saull tells me.
“Will Welch was captain here last season and he has been incredible in training so far.
“It’s about seeing whether I can share the 7 shirt with him – or get hold of it myself and do it justice.”
And the Falcons new boy says he has been impressed by a culture of ambition and confidence at Kingston Park, and is backing the Falcons to finish in the top half of the table in their first season back in the top flight.
“As a club I don’t see why we can’t be pushing for Heineken Cup rugby next season. Looking at the guys we’ve signed and the talent we have, I think that’s achievable,” he says.
“There is no lack of ambition, hunger and motivation at Newcastle Falcons. If we can get the squad atmosphere right and build those player connections quickly, then I’d be disappointed if we weren’t mid-table by Christmas.”
Monday, 26 August 2013
Thursday, 8 August 2013
Some recent columns of mine: Why the RFU was right not to reduce Richard Cockerill's ban (this was written before the Leicester DoR's appeal hearing, but you'll catch my drift) and what 7s can do to lift the English professional game.