Scrum-half Josh Barton has spoken of the ‘exciting times’ ahead after completing his first week as a Newcastle Falcons player.
The 24-year-old is one of 13 new arrivals after signing from Coventry, and rounded off his first week on Tyneside with a brutal hill-sprint session on Newcastle’s Town Moor.
“It’s been a class week and it’s an exciting time ahead,” said the half-back, who made his professional breakthrough with London Scottish.
“All the boys and the staff couldn’t have been any more welcoming, and I’m enjoying what we’re doing.
“In some respects we’ve been eased to it, but I know things will pick up. The standard is already very high in terms of what the players are doing and the level of ability, and it’s been good to get going after so long for me personally.”
Crediting the Falcons coaches for mixing fitness with skills during their opening week, Barton said: “I enjoy the way Newcastle approach pre-season because you’ve got your standard stuff which you obviously have to do for the strength and conditioning side, but there’s lots of skill work and game awareness mixed in from day one.
“Some places just go hammer and tongs on the fitness side from the off, which can break the guys’ morale, but as a new lad here I’ve been really impressed with how well thought out everything is in terms of the schedule and the purpose behind everything we’re doing.
“It’s given me time to settle in, but the standards are still expected to be high. It’s certainly not easy, but you enjoy the hard work because you can see what it’s all leading towards.”
Barton was speaking at the culmination of a gruelling series of hill-sprints, saying: “That hill session was pretty dark – genuinely one of the worst things I’ve ever done.
“It’s one of those where it’s more about the boys all buying in, everyone suffering together and building those bonds. You don’t want to be the guy who drops out, you keep pushing each other along and you just get on with it.
“You can see the team spirit from the way the lads were all encouraging each other, and it’s great to be involved in a group like that. We’re laying the foundation for when the games come round, and luckily it’s a pretty short pre-season.”
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Leicester Tigers head coach, Dan McKellar said: “The group, players and staff were on the go for 23 weeks straight so getting away from the game for a period was really beneficial and we’ve come back in enthused for this challenge this week.
“Ealing are a team full of experience and quality, so we’ll have to be at our best to get the result we want, on a big day for the likes of Hanro and Finn.
“It’s fitting that Hanro leads us on his 100th game. He carried a lot of the leadership burden during the World Cup and continues to be someone the boys can count on to lead with his actions.”
Scott MacLeod is returning to Newcastle Falcons as line-out coach, with the former Scotland lock on board until at least the end of the season.
The Hawick native spent 11 years with the Falcons, making 61 appearances as a player before joining the coaching team in 2016.
Having departed Kingston Park last summer MacLeod will now return to impart his expertise, combining coaching commitments with working for his family’s business in the Scottish Borders.
Newcastle Falcons’ consultant director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “Scott is a well-respected line-out specialist who can help us make some big gains in that area between now and the end of the season.
“He knows and loves the club, he’s very well regarded here and I’m looking forward to getting him back involved.
“We’ve initially said it’s until the end of the season and I know Scott has other business commitments, but if it works well for both parties over the next few months then we’ll be happy to look at extending it beyond that.”
Capped 24 times by Scotland in a playing career which also saw him starring for Border Reivers, Edinburgh, Scarlets, Kobelco Steelers and Newcastle, the set-piece specialist is relishing the prospect of reinvigorating the Falcons’ line-out during the remainder of the season.
MacLeod said: “Our line-out has consistently been in the top four of the Premiership over the past few years, so hopefully I can come in and help get us back up there.
“I’ve been watching the games from afar this season because Newcastle Falcons is still a big part of my life, even though I’ve not been personally involved since the summer. I just want to come in and make a positive difference, get us back to where we should be and help the boys.”
Having spent more than a decade at Kingston Park as a player and coach, MacLeod insisted the opportunity to return was just too good to pass up.
“I’ve missed the place a lot,” said the 44-year-old.
“I’m now working for my family’s business, MacLeod Glass, up in Hawick, but I’m sure any sportsperson will tell you they miss being in and around that team environment. It’s certainly very different going from a Premiership rugby club to working in a factory every day, and it’s been a shock to the system.
“I’ll now get to combine both, and I’ve missed being involved with the professional game. I’ve been coaching my son’s S2 side to get my rugby fix, but I’m buzzing to be back with the Falcons. It’s a really special club for me.”
Setting out with one clear aim, the Scot said: “I just want us to get our identity back.
“I’ll come in, assess our strengths and our weaknesses and come up with a plan accordingly. I know some of the players really well and I don’t know others at all, but luckily with us having this big break before our next game it’s absolutely ideal timing for getting things in place.
“One thing you have to bear in mind with Newcastle is how bad the weather is, in terms of how much you can push it in the line-out, but I just want to get the confidence back into the boys.
“It’s about simple things being done well on a consistent basis, and I’m starting this week to help put it in motion.
“I’ve got a few weeks to get to know the guys I’ve not worked with before, see how it all ties in with the lads I already know and then knit it all together into a game plan which works best for the team.
“As I say, I just want us to have that Newcastle Falcons identity again when it comes to the line-out, and I’m really positive about things. We’ll see how it works between now and the end of the season, and if everyone’s happy then we can see where it goes.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Leicester Tigers on Good Friday (March 29), with tickets on sale for the 7.45pm kick-off by clicking here.