Richards aims for speedy return after Newcastle relegated from Premiership

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London (AFP)

Newcastle boss Dean Richards insisted the Falcons were determined to make an immediate return to the Premiership after their relegation from the top flight of English rugby union was confirmed by a 28-19 loss away to Gloucester on Saturday.

The Falcons were in the title deciding play-offs last season but have lost 15 of their 21 league matches so far this term.

And this latest defeat left basement club Newcastle firmly in 12th place, the lone relegation spot, 10 points adrift of fallen giants Leicester who will now be spared demotion to the second-tier Championship.

"We are focused on getting back up immediately next season," said former England No 8 Richards.

"The game was like the story of the season as we put our heart and soul into it but lack of accuracy cost us two or three tries."

Newcastle's relegation means Manchester-based Sale will be the only top-flight rugby union club located in the north of England next season.

London Irish will take the Falcons' spot in the Premiership after only losing two Championship games all season.

Newcastle started well at Kingsholm thanks to early tries from Micky Young and Sinoti Sinoti but Gloucester eventually proved too strong as the southwest side recorded a bonus-point win.

The Cherry and Whites scored tries through Jason Woodward, England outcast Danny Cipriani, Charlie Sharples and Matt Banahan with Billy Twelvetrees converting all four scores.

Northampton ensured their race for the fourth and last play-off place with Harlequins would go to the last day of the regular season after a 38-10 win at home to Worcester.

The Saints marched on thanks to two tries from wing Taqele Naiyaravoro and one each by centre Luther Burrell, flanker Tom Wood and hooker Reece Marshall, with Wales fly-half Dan Biggar converting the entire set.

Saturday's win guaranteed Northampton a top six finish and assured the Saints of qualification for next season's European Champions Cup.

"I think we have secured the top six so we get a pass mark for that," said Chris Boyd, Northampton's director of rugby. "Anything else is a bonus."

Meanwhile Premiership title-holders Saracens warmed up for their Champions Cup final against Irish province Leinster, the reigning continental kings, next weekend with a 38-7 thrashing of Exeter.

But with both of the top two resting most of their senior players it was hard to read too much into what could be a dress rehearsal for the Premiership final at Twickenham on June 1.

"We wanted some momentum as a club and there's a good buzz around the place at the moment," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.

"But they rested their best team and we rested our XV for next week, so this game was unimportant if we play again," he added.

Exeter counterpart Rob Baxter had no qualms over his team selection, saying: "If you get to the stage where results mean nothing, you're in the wrong business.

"But bigger picture, I wouldn't change the team I selected."