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I knew this would be my last season at Newcastle and there’s comfort in that, says Italy-bound John Wells

Newcastle defence coach John Wells

JOHN WELLS is looking forward to starting a new chapter in Italy after parting company with Newcastle.

Having spent the best part of a quarter of a century devoted to the game as a coach, the 56-year-old former Leicester and England B flanker has decided to take a step back from professional rugby.

The frustration of squeezing the most out of Newcastle’s diminishing budget has taken its toll, but Wells stresses that the decision to leave the Premiership behind and take up a part-time position with second division side, Colorno, is mainly due to lifestyle reasons.

Once travel restrictions are eased, the former England coach will divide his time between Colorno, where his old friend and former Newark RUFC captain Nick Scott is director of rugby, and back home in the north-east as he looks to strike the right work-life balance.

“The intention with whatever I did next, certainly for the next year or so, was always to try and have a bit of time at home and try and have a bit of time away from rugby as well,” Wells told the The Rugby Paper.

“I am going to be doing roughly about 24-25 weeks split into blocks, and my wife will come over as well most of the time that I am in Italy. It’s as much a lifestyle option as well as a change of scenery.

“It’s an opportunity to go and do something different, with someone I know, at an organisation that has similar values but still be involved in the game.

“Everything is pretty flexible at the moment,” he adds. “I tried to get over a couple of times during last season, but it just didn’t work out.

“I got flights booked and everything sorted to go on March 9, but it was the same week they locked down those 11 towns just outside of Parma. Colorno wasn’t one of them but it was on the edge of it.

“By the weekend we were due to come back, it was in lockdown stage and flights were being disrupted. I’m glad I didn’t go; it would have been a right mess trying to go anywhere at that time.”

Wells helped Newcastle win two promotions and achieve their first-ever appearance in the Premiership play-offs in 2018/19.

He says he has known for a long time, well before the financial meltdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, that this season would be his last at the Falcons.

“Dean (Richards) had a conversation with me at the start of this season saying, look John, the club has got to go in a different direction. It was a very, very easy conversation to have both ways.

“In his defence, we’d had conversations, as you can imagine, over the years and I was getting pretty frustrated by our, let’s just call it, inability to invest in the same way that one or two other clubs had been able to invest.

“I am delighted that the club has got promoted and back to the Premiership, where it needs to be, they’ve now just got to try and find a way to stay there.”

Richards’ budget was cut after Newcastle defied the odds to finish fourth in the Premiership two years ago, and a combination of injuries and a lack of strength in depth conspired to send the club plummeting towards relegation the following season.

“Everybody expected it to be tough, but nobody expected relegation,” Wells admits.

Dean Richards
Back in the Premiership: Dean Richards has taken Newcastle Falcons back to the top flight after an unbeaten season in the Championship. Getty Images

Further cuts have been made by owner Semore Kurdi and Wells knows the Falcons will be fighting with one hand behind their back at times on their return to the Premiership.

“You can’t slate a guy that has put in the time, money and effort that Semore has, but you get frustrated that you can’t compete with the big boys,” Wells says.

“The guy has single-handedly saved the club from going under but once you’re working within the club, you want to be in a position where you can try and compete, and it becomes frustrating when you can’t.

“If they get their best players out on a regular basis, they’ll be a match for anybody.

“They’ve got as good a back row as any team has in the Premiership, but it only needs two or three injuries to come to light and they don’t then have the strength in depth to deal with it week to week to week. That’s going to be the biggest challenge.”

Wells does believe, however, that the current lockdown could work in their favour.

Newcastle’s Championship-winning campaign was called off early by the RFU, giving the Falcons clarity, while their Premiership rivals are in an impasse as they wait for a verdict on whether the season will be played out to a close or not.

“I’d be interested to see how the current Premiership season finishes, if it gets finished, and what advantages or disadvantages that will have to Newcastle.

“If teams are going to have to play eight or nine games in July and August and then be ready for a September start, there’s potentially going to be some banged up teams.

“They may be battle-hardened but if on occasions they are playing two games a week or three games in two weeks, as has been mooted, then there are going to be some tired bodies.”

One thing Wells is certain of is his own mind. The lockdown and the change of scenery won’t change him as a person.

Like most people, Wells has kept himself busy over the last month doing DIY around the house and gardening. Not that the former farmer sees any hardship in that.

“Quite frankly, everybody who knows me calls me a right boring bastard. I’d much rather paint a ceiling than go out for a pint!”

JON NEWCOMBE

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