Former Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Peter Russell has got off to a successful start with his latest challenge, reversing the Newcastle Falcons' fortunes as they start their campaign to get back into the English Premiership.
Russell had only been head coach at the northeast England club for five weeks when they scored a 37-20 away win over Bristol at the start of the second-tier Championship competition early on Monday.
In pre-season they'd topped a three-match winning opening run with a 21-3 hammering of Heineken Cup semifinalists Edinburgh, and came with a late rush in their last warm-up match, losing 20-24 away to Ulster, who were beaten by Leinster in the Heineken Cup final in May.
The Falcons, who reached a number of high points from 1997 to 2004, including when 50 busloads of supporters headed south from Tyneside for a major final victory at Twickenham, were relegated from the premiership this year. And soon afterwards, Russell was confirmed as the coach for the new season.
Fans have already started seeing Russell and club director of rugby Dean Richards as men for the moment, with Russell taking MSP to the Wellington club title, Wairarapa-Bush to the Heartland Championship, and the Magpies to three first division semifinals and last year's Championship.
Despite that latest success, the Hawke's Bay union decided against giving Russell a new contract and he spent several months seeking a coaching role in New Zealand before accepting the position in England.
Among the players in his squad is former Hurricanes Super Rugby first five-eighths Jimmy Gopperth. Also included are former Blues centre Jamie Helleur, former Junior All Black Tane Tu'ipulotu, Rugby World Cup players from Italy and the Pacific, including wing Suka Hufanga, a hero of Tonga's win over France despite being ordered off, and former Melbourne Storm and Warriors league player Ryan Shortland.
The Falcons' next match is also away, to London Scottish, on Saturday.