THE magic of the British & Irish Cup sees up-and-coming head coach Greg Woods clash with an opponent he holds in high esteem, one of the game’s most respected operators in Dean Richards.
Woods is a name for the future, one of the main architects of Swalec Cup holders Cross Keys’ emergence as a major force at semi-professional level in Wales.
Standing opposite the ex-Cardiff front row forward on the touchline at Kingston Park today will be Newcastle’s director of rugby, an England and Lions great as a player who has gone on to forge a successful coaching career, although one steeped in controversy.
‘Deano’ was one of the best number eights in the business, winning 48 caps for England and six for the Lions before going on to coach Leicester in 1998 after spending 15 season with the Tigers as a player.
Under his reign, the famous club enjoyed unparalleled success, winning four Premiership titles and back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs in 2001 and 2002.
But things haven’t flowed quite so smoothly for Richards recently. He has just returned to the game after being banned for three years following his involvement in the infamous ‘bloodgate’ scandal when in charge of Harlequins.
His four-year tenure at The Stoop ended in 2009 when he was implicated over a fake blood injury to Quins wing Tom Williams during a Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Leinster.
Richards took over at the Falcons this season, the club relegated from the Premier-ship over the summer after an appeal by London Welsh ensured they took their place in the top flight following their Championship play-off success.
For Woods, Richards is a coach he holds in high regard and he is relishing the opportunity of pitting his wits against one of the game’s foremost tactical minds.
“Dean Richards is someone I admire,” he said. “I grew up watching his Leicester Tigers side winning the European Cup, that driving lineout with (openside) Neil Back scoring hundreds of tries.
“He’s a coach who also did a fantastic job with Harle-quins and he’s someone you look forward to testing yourself against.”
Woods added: “He’s achieved a lot. He’s had a quiet couple of years – everyone knows about that – but he’s someone I really respect who has produced winning sides and he’s doing that at Newcastle now.
“If we can share a drink after the game, that would be fantastic.”