Fly-half Brett Connon says Newcastle Falcons have learnt their lines ahead of the Gallagher Premiership curtain coming up next month.
The 24-year-old was a key cog in last season’s unbeaten promotion push, playing his way into the No 10 shirt before the league was brought to a premature halt in mid-March.
Speaking with fewer than six weeks to go until their maiden league assignment at Bath, the Cumbrian with 27 first team appearances to his name insisted everything is in place for the big kick-off.
Q: Last season was an odd one in many ways, but in terms of the rugby that did get played, how was it for the team?
Brett Connon: It feels like a long time ago, but it was really good. We went into the season putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to try and maintain a Premiership standard right the way through, and it was always in our minds to try and go through the campaign unbeaten.
Personally, it was great, because we had myself, Toby Flood, Joel Hodgson and Will Haydon-Wood as a group of fly-halves who had all come through our academy. We were all pushing hard for selection, which is great for the team, but there was always the feeling we were supporting each other by driving up standards rather than having any kind of niggle between us.
I saw a quote from one of our new signings Pete Lucock in an interview recently, where he said we were the best team he’d ever seen coming down to the Championship, and I think that’s a great credit to the boys.
Q: We all know there’s a gap between the Gallagher Premiership and the Championship, but can last season still be useful for us as we move back into the top flight?
BC: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve had a year to iron out some of the creases from our game which perhaps didn’t go right during our last season in the Premiership, and we’ve also given some great game time to the outstanding younger players we have in our squad. Guys like Jamie Blamire, George Wacokecoke, Ben Stevenson and Adam Radwan had all played in the Premiership, but they’re now coming back into it with a load more match experience, ready to show everyone what they’ve got. For some of the senior players it meant they’ve been able to rest their bodies a bit during the season by not having to play every game, and I think both ends of the squad will have benefited.
Winning has definitely become the norm for us, and while we obviously understand the Premiership is a different proposition, maybe it won’t be as big a jump for us.
Q: When lockdown came in it must have been doubly frustrating for you on a personal level, having put together a run of starts during the preceding few weeks?
BC: Yeah, I guess so. We’d had a few good games like Jersey away and Bedford at home immediately before it all locked down, and I’d been focusing on some big upcoming matches like Coventry away and Ealing at home which were due in the following few weeks. I wanted to really challenge myself personally during those kinds of games, and as a team we were excited about that opportunity. It’s obviously a shame that it stopped early, but you can’t complain when we ended up getting promoted, and obviously being mindful of the bigger picture around people’s health.
Q: Once lockdown came in what was your own personal set-up – did you sprint back home to Carlisle or stick around in Newcastle?
BC: I was straight home to Cumbria the day after we played Bedford on March 13, because I’d heard the reports and rumours about what was coming. My parents are a little more vulnerable so I thought it best to go home, and I ended up spending 12 weeks there with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend. As things began to ease up we were able to see my other brother, Max, who has a little family, and it was nice to be home for the longest period since I left school.
Q: What could have just been a few weeks off ended up turning into something like six months. How do you cope with that as a rugby player, and were you able to do much?
BC: For the first few days I just did absolutely nothing, which was nice for my body to get a bit of a break. After a couple of weeks we got the news that we’d been promoted, so we half-celebrated that as best we could with a few quiet drinks inside the family home, and from there it was just a case of ‘we’re in the Premiership next season, we’d better crack on’.
I just knew I didn’t want to waste this opportunity, and the club had given us a few weights and things to take away with us which helped get us through the early part of the summer. It just meant that when pre-season did eventually start in August, the boys were arriving in great shape to begin with, and we’ve kicked on from there.
Q: How annoying has it been watching the Premiership games over the past few months, knowing you’re not playing until November?
BC: It’s been so frustrating – especially seeing people playing who have been with us last season or the year before. It’s great to see them doing so well, and hopefully someone like Zach Kibirige will be starting in a Premiership final next weekend, but you’re just watching the TV wishing it was you. It can’t be helped, so there’s no point letting it get to you, and we’re less than six weeks away now from our first Premiership game at Bath. We’ve got two good friendlies against Ealing before that, and everyone’s just counting down the days.
Q: How is training going? Are you still pretty limited in terms of what you can and can’t do under the current regulations?
BC: We’ve got all our learning done in terms of the things we’re bringing into our game, and the thing now is putting it into stressful situations. We’re picking up the tempo in training, and everyone has the same thought in their minds about not wanting to waste the time we’ve got during this pre-season period. We’re fully prepped, our bodies are well rested and I feel like we’re in a good place. The next big test is going to be managing our bodies the day after our first game for eight months, but we won’t know about that until it happens.
Q: There has been a lot of stability around the fly-half position over the summer. Does it feel like a vote of confidence in the personnel we have there?
BC: I hope so, yeah. Me, Joel and Floody have been working together for something like four years now, and then Will Haydon-Wood has come up through the academy during that time and also shown a lot of ability. There’s no shortage of competition between us, and we all offer something. Hopefully the two games against Ealing will be useful preparation because they’re as near to a Premiership opponent as we could realistically get, and we’re all looking forward to that.
Q: On the management side we’ve had Nick Easter coming in as defence coach after some time out in South Africa – has there been much difference arising from having a fresh pair of eyes looking at aspects of our game?
BC: He’s brought a lot of new things to the table, and everyone’s learning from him. The back-rowers are picking his brains quite a lot, understandably, with him being a former England No 8, and on the defensive side we’re all enjoying it. That’s certainly no criticism of what we had before, but when I read over the summer that Nick would be joining us you just knew it was a quality appointment.