The promotion of any team from the English Championship into the Aviva Premiership would not normally register as being particularly significant to rugby north of the border. However many followers of Scottish rugby took to social networks to congratulate Newcastle Falcons on their return to the top tier. On further inspection it’s not hard to see why, with the Falcons hosting a strong Scottish contingent in their ranks.
In the last few months the Falcons have signed Scott Lawson, Mike Blair and “world class” Phil Godman and already have internationalists in the squad in the the form of Rory Lawson, Ally Hogg and Scott McLeod. With the exception of Blair the rest have yet to retire from international rugby although taking into account age and current incumbents it’s hard to picture many of them in a Scotland shirt again barring a glut of injuries. Ally Hogg may be the exception but much will depend on his form next season. Hogg has only just turned 30 and was one of Falcons’ star players this season but he’ll have to leapfrog Beattie, Brown, Wilson and Denton to stand any chance of a call up to a berth he long dominated.
However the list of exiles on the Falcons’ books doesn’t stop there. The club has a regional academy attached to it run by the Elite Department of the RFU and the scope of its search for future talent does not stop at the banks of the Tweed. The club’s scouting network has also made repeated raids north of the border bringing back hitherto undiscovered or overlooked players from the Scottish leagues. This can only be a good thing for Scottish rugby with very few opportunities for young players to make their mark and break into the bloated squads of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Including those already mentioned there are currently 13 players in the current Falcons’ squad who would be eligible to play for Scotland, although there may be more at academy level. We thought we’d use this opportunity to highlight some stars of tomorrow today.
Grant Shiells – Prop
24 year old Shiells was signed from Kelso in 2009 and benefitted from playing understudy to Euan Murray during his stint in the north east. This season Shiells was a regular part of a Falcons’ scrum that destroyed anything the Championship put in front of it and is a wrecking machine with ball in hand. He was called up as cover for the front row during the Autumn tests and has already featured at under 20 and “A” team level. It’s a case of “when” and not “if” in terms of him making his full international debut.
Fraser McKenzie – Lock
Signed from Sale Sharks the highly rated McKenzie’s chances of winning his first cap have been hampered by injury. As with Shiells it’s a case of “when” rather than “if” with the 6ft 6in second rower putting in some decent performances for the Sharks in what was a difficult season. His ability to play in the back row offers a versatility that Cotter and Johnson may find hard to ignore.
Scott Wilson – Prop
This ship may have already sailed with the 19st 6ft 2in tight head a firm fixture in the England under-20 squad. He qualifies for the Auld Enemy through his English born mother and the SRU were apparently aware of his talent well before he was snaffled over the border. That decision may come back to haunt Scottish rugby in future but there’s still time for someone at Murrayfield to wake up and woo him back before being “Shinglered.” Wilson has had a fantastic debut season and could yet come in from the cold.
Michael Tait – Centre/ Wing
Son of former Falcons’ coach and Scottish international Alan Tait, Tait Jnr. has flitted in and out of the Falcons’ first team over the past few seasons. Signed from Kelso at the same time as Grant Shiells, his progress has been hampered by a knee reconstruction and 18 months of rehab. However he featured in the closing stages of the Championship run-in as well as the British & Irish Cup and at 23 still had plenty of time to develop into a quality player.
Sean Tomes – Lock
The 6ft 7in 19 stone son of former Scotland and Lions player Alan spent a couple of seasons with Dragons before returning to the Falcons at the start of this season having turned down a move to France. Despite strong competition in the second row Tomes has put in some big performances in the boiler house and was rewarded with a new contract at the end of the season.
Jamie Sole – Fullback/ Wing
The son of the legendary Scottish prop was discovered by Falcons playing for Edinburgh Academicals and impressed on trial. He featured in both league and British & Irish Cup matches towards the end of the season, crossing the try line on several occasions. Has competition at fullback but defiantly one to watch out for next season.
Alex Tait – Fullback
Younger brother of Matthew Tait who famously made his debut for England at the age of 19, Alex Tait has come through his fair share of injuries to star for the Falcons this season. Despite his older brother turning out for England some websites list him as having dual nationality but it’s not clear how he qualifies for Scotland – he’s included here for the purposes of completeness.