Tom Penny has spoken of his delight at returning home – the 25-year-old centre signing a two-year deal with Newcastle Falcons ahead of their Gallagher Premiership return.
The Northumbrian is a product of the Falcons’ academy who scored five tries in his 39 appearances for the club, returning to Kingston Park after spending the back end of last season with Harlequins.
Playing Premiership and Champions Cup rugby with the London outfit before lockdown curtailed his stay, he said: “It’s really good to be back.
“It hasn’t been that long, in reality, so everything is still familiar, but I’ve started back with the rest of the squad and it’s a great feeling.”
Director of rugby Dean Richards was similarly enthused to have Penny back on board, saying: “Tom is a real talent who has enjoyed some high-level rugby during his brief time away.
“He knows our systems inside-out and he’s a local lad who plays the game with pace and aggression, so it was a no-brainer when we had the chance to bring him back into the fold.”
Penny believes the Falcons will be Premiership-ready when they return to the top flight on the weekend of November 20, the squad this week starting their official pre-season training programme.
“We’re in the good position of having a few months to get in a proper pre-season before the Premiership starts, and we’re now getting stuck into that,” he said.
“We had day one on Monday, which was just training in small groups after having our Covid tests. It’ll be like that for a couple of weeks while we get all the results through and all that, but we’ve started the gym and the field work which is really the foundation for what will follow as the season gets closer.”
Playing his part in the Falcons’ promotion before his mid-season move, the former Alnwick RFC and RGS Newcastle player said: “I was obviously keeping an eye on Newcastle’s results while I was away – firstly because I’m a Falcons fan, and then obviously with just wanting my mates and the club to do well.
“It was great to see them ploughing on and claiming that unbeaten record when the season was brought to a close in March, and there’s no doubt in my mind they were always a Premiership club.
“The Championship is a tough league and the boys really had to graft all the way through, but they proved more than up to that challenge and fully deserved their promotion when it was confirmed.”
Enjoying his sojourn at Harlequins before returning to his native North East, Penny said: “I’ve always thought that rugby is a good way to travel, see the world and take in different experiences, so in that sense being at Harlequins for a few months was a positive thing.
“You learn from all the coaches and players you work with, and I’m sure I’ll have picked up little bits from the likes of Sean Long, Nick Evans and all the guys I played with down there.
“That’s not to say it was massively different to Newcastle, because professional rugby is broadly the same wherever you are, but if I’ve brought back a couple of bits and bobs to use with the Falcons this coming season then all the better.”
Coming through the extended off-season, he added: “Lockdown has been a strange period for everyone and brought a lot of uncertainty around things, so it’s awesome to be back with the Falcons.
“When the league was first halted and lockdown came in, there was that initial period of a few weeks where they were just waiting to see whether they could re-start the Premiership. At that point there was a feeling that it might just be a pause of a few weeks because nobody really knew the full scope of Covid-19, so it was a decision for me of whether to stay in London or head back home.
“I took a bit of a punt and just came straight back to the North East, partly because London was taking the brunt of Coronavirus at the time, and also because I have a dog, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use the parks down there and all that sort of stuff. I didn’t know if I was coming to Newcastle for just a couple of weeks or what, but five months later I’m still here, and haven’t been back.
“The sad thing was it meant I had to leave Harlequins without getting the chance to see people and say a proper goodbye, but I’m back home now with the Falcons and only looking forward.”