It has been a long wait for Dean Richards and his Newcastle Falcons side.
Automatically promoted to the Gallagher Premiership thanks to the RFU’s mathematics and the probability that they would have ended the Championship season in top spot, the North-East outfit haven't played a competitive fixture since March 14th, but that will all change on Saturday afternoon.
Their first opponents on their immediate return back to the Premiership will be Bath. When rugby restarted, Stuart Hooper's side were impressive, their new pack-oriented game pummelling teams into submission and their performances would see the Blue, Black and White break into the top four as a result.
As much as Newcastle have had plenty of time to prepare and practice ahead of the 2020/21 season, Falcons actually come into this game having recently played Ealing in two pre-season friendlies, losing in London before beating the Championship side on home soil.
With Mark Wilson both injured and away with England, they will be without his presence in the pack, whilst star winger Sinoti Sinoti has recently made his exit from the club.
Off-season signing Matias Orlando is in Australia with Los Pumas, hoping to carry on Argentina’s impressive start to the Tri-Nations, having begun with a win over the All Blacks. Cooper Vuna and former Tynedale loanee Morgan Passman are injured as well, meaning that there will be some new faces on show at the Rec.
Just one day to wait until the #GallagherPrem is back in your life ??— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) November 19, 2020
And @btsportrugby will be showing all games behind closed doors LIVE ALL SEASON ??
Here's where to watch the opening fixtures ?? https://t.co/d57T8XQ1gb pic.twitter.com/CkY69EP2zP
“It has very much been hit and miss in terms of the training and getting prepared,” Dean Richards said. “But you put that behind you. We are where we are.
“We have got a couple of injuries and that affords people an opportunity and with that opportunity goes the excitement as well and where better to start your career than down at Bath and there will be a couple of boys that make their Premiership debuts down there when the team is announced.”
On the whole, it is largely the same Newcastle side that were relegated from the Premiership in 2018/19. Currently, the only significant arrivals due to play this weekend are Italian lock Marco Fuser and former England centre Luther Burrell, who joined the club following his attempt at cracking rugby league.
Many of the players in the team have either been there for some time or are local lads. Since September, the North-East has been held in higher lockdown restrictions than most of the country, the region feeling more cut off than ever as a result.
“The fact that we are a tightknit group and we had to stick together has been good because obviously, it is very challenging time for everybody,” Michael Young said.
“Some people have lost loved ones and these are things we have to deal with because we know each other really well, rugby aside, you have to knit together and you have to look out for each other because mentally it is a challenging time.
“Physically you can get yourself into whatever shape you want, but the mental challenges come with what everybody is facing at the moment and because we are a tightknit group and we have been together a while, that is easier for us to deal with.”
As with any other professional side, Newcastle aim to represent their community. Young and his teammates are no different. The scrum-half is from Hartlepool, prop Trevor Davison is from Denton Burn, fly-half Toby Flood was schooled in Morpeth and Callum Chick is from Ponteland.
Many of the club’s youngsters have been sent to National League clubs in the local area with a prime example being winger Morgan Passman who was the top try scorer in National Two North in the 2018/19 season. Regular starting hooker George McGuigan has spent time in Corbridge, whilst Adam Radwan has plied his trade with Darlington Mowden Park in National One.
With such strong links to their community and to their fans, Young believes the team can offer some form of solace to the region after a difficult 10 months.
“The fact that we are the hub of professional rugby here, we have to make guys in this area proud and make sure that they want to get behind us,” Young told TRU. “If we can give any bit of delight to what is going on in these current circumstances then great and we can make the people of this area proud by the way we are playing rugby.
“That is brilliant for us and we want to do that. We want to make sure we are putting a bit of joy in people by being able to watch rugby, by being able to watch us back in the Premiership. That’s huge for us.”