Rory Lawson given chance of top-flight return
The scrum-half agreed a move from Gloucester to Tyneside last summer when the Falcons were hovering over the trapdoor to the Championship, first believing that they would remain in the Premiership despite finishing bottom, and then plummeting downwards when the promoted London Welsh were handed a late reprieve.
London Welsh and their former Scotland stand-off Gordon Ross have swiftly dropped down again, despite a terrific fight, and Newcastle are now two games away from passing them on their return. They face Bedford Blues at Goldington Road tomorrow night in the first leg of the RFU Championship Final and host the Blues in the return at Kingston Park next Wednesday night.
After losing away to Leeds in their semi-final first leg, which prompted the axing of half of the side by director of rugby Dean Richards, and only beating the Blues narrowly this season, Lawson insisted that there will be no complacency in the final, even if the wider public expect the Falcons to romp home.
Lawson will start the game on the bench, having just returned from six weeks out with a foot injury, but is hopeful of pushing his case this week for a start.
“It is an exciting time going into a play-off final and I feel that there are some nerves around, but there is also a sense that this is what this whole season has been about,” he said.
“We’ve known we’d finish in the top two for the last few months and so now, at last, we’re at the final where everyone expected Newcastle to be. It’s up to us to reward that faith and get this club back to where it belongs.
“Personally, there’s some disappointment in not starting because you always want to start when you’re fit, but I also understand that I’ve been out for a while and Warren [Fury] has been doing well, so I’ll just have to make my impact from the bench this week.”
Lawson is among the new army of Scots that Newcastle have turned to for help in reviving the club. Ally Hogg has become a popular figure and captain at the Falcons in the same way Gary Armstrong did when Rob Andrew and Steve Bates launched the first Tyneside revolution with promotion from the second division in 1996-97.
Doddie Weir, Alan Tait and George Graham were the other Scots then and now Hogg has Lawson, Scott MacLeod – who recently claimed the clean sweep of Player of the Year awards voted on by players, coaches and supporters this season – Michael Tait, Grant Shiells and Sean Tomes for company. Ex-Melrose and Borders pro Calum MacRae is on the coaching staff, and Mike Blair, Scott Lawson, Phil Godman and Fraser McKenzie swell the ranks for the Premiership push this summer.
Many are Scottish players who have just missed out on call-ups to the pro game north of the border or moved on for more regular gametime elsewhere. Lawson, at 32 and with 31 caps, knows that his Scotland career may be behind him, but the type of character he is, it is clear that while he is playing and training like the demon he is the fire of ambition will never go out.
Even with Fijian Niko Matawalu starring for Glasgow, there are still a good number of No 9 options for Kiwi Vern Cotter if he takes over the Scotland reins, as expected, next season. But Glasgow’s Henry Pyrgos will have to battle Matawalu and Chris Cusiter for game-time, while only one of Greig Laidlaw or Sean Kennedy, another exciting youngster, will enjoy regular games at Edinburgh.
So, it is not ridiculous to imagine a scenario where an injury or two befalls a player up here, Lawson and/or Blair are playing well in the Premiership, Newcastle proving to be the surprise packet and featuring regularly on Sky, and Cotter feels the need for form and experience.
“That is intriguing,” said Lawson. “I never knew Mike was coming here until Dean [Richards] said he’d signed him and I suppose it is bizarre in a way, considering I left Scotland for Gloucester because I felt I wasn’t getting the opportunity to play, because he was the Scotland scrum-half. But Mike and I get on very well and I am a big believer that we need two or three top-quality players in key positions to really challenge in the Premiership, and scrum-half is one of them. Just getting there and surviving is not what Newcastle want for next season. We want to really compete.
“I have had one conversation with [Scotland interim coach] Scott Johnson and it’s clear that he is looking to the future, and I don’t necessarily fit that, but that’s not what has motivated me in my career. It has been performing to the best I can for my club and proving to myself that I can compete. I needed to leave Edinburgh to do that and I’ve come to Newcastle, a club that has ambitions to do well in the Premiership. People are always going to have a view on what this player is or that player is but it’s me against me and, if I know I am doing everything I can, I’m happy. Winning these next two games and getting back into the Premiership would certainly make me happy.”