Zach Kibirige is starting pre-season with a spring in his step after a strong climax to the 2017-18 campaign.
The 23-year-old scored his first Premiership try in the Falcons’ final home game of last season when he plucked a Josh Matavesi cross-kick out of the air against Wasps, and after a summer helping Newcastle to the final of the World Club 10s the speedster is ready to pick up where he left off.
“I have a bit of momentum going into this season, which is great,” said Kibirige, the former England Under-20s flyer who came through the Falcons academy after completing his studies at Yarm School.
“This time last year I’d gone away to play club rugby in New Zealand, which was great in terms of my game understanding, but missing the Falcons’ pre-season wasn’t ideal for my fitness.
“The end result of that was that I didn’t play as consistently well as I would have liked when I returned to Newcastle, but I felt going to New Zealand was definitely beneficial in terms of making me a better rugby player.
“As last season went on my fitness improved and I started to get more games. I scored my first Premiership try in our last home match of the season, I then went on to play in the World Club 10s in Mauritius and I feel this year like I’m in a much better place to attack the new season.”
Forming part of a Newcastle side which lost narrowly to South African Super Rugby outfit the Bulls in the final of the star-studded World Club 10s, Kibirige explained: “Going over to Mauritius was absolutely fantastic.
“With it technically being the off-season there was a good balance between it being an enjoyable experience, but also taking the competition seriously and getting out of it what we needed to.
“We were absolutely flying in most of the games, to be honest, and probably should have won it. There are worse places to be told you’re going to play rugby and the lads really enjoyed the whole thing.”
Now back into the swing of a full pre-season at Kingston Park, the winger added: “We’re moving into a phase where there’s a lot more focus on the tactical side of our game, as well as obviously the conditioning and skills work which we’re still doing.
“We’re getting to know our attacking shape and our defensive detail a bit more, and it’s definitely not a case of the old-fashioned flogging during pre-season. Yes, you do have those tough sessions, but there’s a real rugby focus to everything we’re doing.”
Welcoming a number of new faces, Kibirige said: “As a club we don’t want to stand still, even after a season like the last one where we reached the semi-finals of every competition we entered.
“With that in mind you’ve always got to refresh your squad and we’ve brought in some real quality, but the good thing after last year is that we don’t need as many changes. The core is in place, we’re in a good place to build and we’re just adding a couple of little touches here and there.”
Facing a fight for a first team spot in a wing roster which includes Premiership Player of the Season Vereniki Goneva, the scorer of Premiership Try of the Season Sinoti Sinoti, Anglo-Welsh Cup Breakthrough Player Adam Radwan, 200-game Falcon Alex Tait and summer signing Tom Arscott, Kibirige is relishing the competition.
“Some people might think it’s a bit of a nightmare having some of the Premiership’s best wingers immediately in front of you, but for me I use it as a motivation,” he said.
“I see every single day what those guys do to reach the standards they’re at, it’s a constant motivation for me and I can learn heaps just by watching them and working alongside guys like Niki and Sinoti in training.
“I’m ambitious and I want to be in their shoes at some point, but I know it just doesn’t fall into your lap. You have to put the work in every single day, and what better place to learn your trade as a winger?”
Newcastle Falcons start the 2018-19 Gallagher Premiership at home to Saracens on Sunday September 2. Book your season ticket membership by clicking here.