Newcastle Falcons assistant coach Stuart Grimes believes his side's low-key preparation will help them sneak under the radar, as the Guinness Premiership gets underway this Sunday with a home start against Sale Sharks.After a gruelling but understated summer of preparation the former Scotland international lock, now charged with marshalling the Newcastle line out, has revealed a back-to-basics attitude as the key to his side's future success.
“We were a bit underprepared for our first two pre-season games against Western Force and Leeds, which came very early in to our rugby schedule, but our final match against Racing Metro saw us take some big strides forward,” said the former Falcons star, back at Kingston Park this summer in a newly-revamped coaching team.
“That game saw us win 37-10 against a strong Racing Metro side containing a host of international players, and that was a very positive result to end a week-long training camp which saw us get through a lot of good work.”
Insisting that friendly matches mean very little in terms of gauging a team's prospects for the coming campaign, Grimes said: “This weekend is when the proper stuff starts.
“The pre-season games are really just a means to an end, and Sunday's match is a chance for us to throw down a marker. It's very important to get a good start to generate some momentum for the season, and to have three of the first four games at home – whilst none of them are easy – represents a great chance for us to get the ball rolling.
“Picking up our away form is also a massive part of our focus for the new season, but if we can do that from a position of strength after some early home wins then all the better.
“It's not a case of saying we want to get X number of points from this or that game, what we do is go in to every match with a clear game plan, put everything in to winning and then afterwards assess where we can improve.”
With a new focus among the group following a summer of hard work, he adds: “We've changed a lot from last season in terms of our game plan, and with having myself and Alan Tait on the coaching team obviously we have a lot of new ideas which we are implementing to our respective areas of the side – myself with the line out and Taity with the backs and defence.
“So far the response has been very positive from the players to the changes we have made, but ultimately until you get in to the competitive games then it's all talk at this stage of the year.
“Real games under real pressure is what it's all about, and only at that stage of having played a few months will we know truly where we are. I think there is a kind of tradition among clubs of trying to talk themselves up in the weeks before the new season, but we're just working hard here and quietly getting on with the job.”
With the line out again set to be a key battleground, Grimes says: “I'm lucky in the sense that I have inherited what is already a very good unit, with a lot of talented players.
“What we are doing is just focusing on the real basics, doing them extremely well and maximising the benefit of the new laws.
“The experimental law variations will depower a lot of the traditional mauling sides, of which there are quite a few in the Guinness Premiership, and then there are the EPS periods in which a number of teams will be pretty heavily hit by international call-ups.
“I don't think some people have truly considered the implications of both of these things, but we believe they are just another small factor in our favour as we look to build what we believe is a much more balanced team and way of playing.”
Tickets for Sunday's game (kick-off 3pm) are available by calling 0871 226 60 60, logging on to the club website or from Kingston Park in person.