Rugby: Russell's high flyers aiming to extend run

By Doug Laing

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The success of former Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Peter Russell with English club Newcastle Falcons continues unabated with the team expected to comfortably record an 11th consecutive competition win this weekend.

The unbeaten Falcons have a home match tomorrow morning (NZT) against second placed Nottingham, a team Russell's side already has an eight point competition lead over.

A major test of the club's new head coach's role was overcome when the expected toughest opposition, Bedford Blues, were beaten 29-20 last weekend. It was the Falcons eighth win from eight matches in the English Rugby Championship, still early days in a nine-month campaign to win a place back in the Premiership from which they were relegated last May, sparking the appointment of the former Magpies' guru.

Bedford are now third, and the Falcons had included among their previous victims the current fourth-placed Leeds Carnegie, beaten 53-10, and fifth-placed Rotherham Titans, beaten 33-0 in the snow.

Russell's team have also scored two big wins in the first two matches of the British and Irish Cup.

Before last weekend's win, Russell told a newspaper in Newcastle: "The whole league wants them (Bedford) to beat us... Everyone aside from our own crowd wants the Falcons to lose, and that is a good tag to have because it keeps us nice and sharp and ready to go each week."

Another tough test approaches on Tuesday when Newcastle play Tonga, with the likely resting of some of his top-liners, who include former Hurricanes Super Rugby first five-eighth Jimmy Gopperth.

Russell was unexpectedly dropped as Magpies coach last year, after he and departing co-coach Tom Coventry guided their team to a rugby championship title and a place in the New Zealand Premiership. The Magpies lasted a season in the upper competition.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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