From Premiership to plumbing ... grateful Del Fava hoping to repay a debt asWestoe battle relegation; THE INTERVIEW: Carlo del Fava Another relegation would be 'heartbreaking', Newcastle Falcons old boy Carlo Del Fava tells Mark Smith, as his South Shields Westoe side fight for North One East survival.
The Shieldsmen have suffered two relegations in the past three years and sit nine points from safety in North One East - five divisions below the Premiership, their alumni including England prop Davey Wilson and Women's World Cup-winning captain Katy McLean.
In his second season as forwards coach after retiring from the Falcons two years ago due to a neck injury, the 54-times-capped Italian international found the club in his own darkest hour and remains determined to repay what he feels is a personal debt.
"When I retired from playing with the Falcons, Westoe were the first ones on the phone asking if I would mind doing a bit of coaching," said the 34-year-old, whose fellow coaches include Haydn Richards (forwards and conditioning) and former Falcons centre James Fitzpatrick (backs).
"At that time I was in the transition between rugby and setting up my plumbing business. I wasn't too sure if I wanted to go into coaching but the way they have handled things with me has been amazing. They allow me to do training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for the other guys to manage match-day.
"It has helped me more than anything else in terms of the change to life after rugby. I look forward to those Tuesday and Thursday night sessions, it keeps me in touch with the game and it has made me realise how much I do know about rugby thanks to the experiences I have had in my career.
"If I can keep that knowledge flowing through to the guys it can help set a standard at the club that maybe the lads will keep following on with. If I can leave that with them when I eventually do depart, that will be great, but for the time being I would love to stick with them as long as I can. They were good for me when I needed them, and I want to pass that back to the club.
"Long term on the coaching front I honestly don't have any specific ambitions, but my immediate goal is to impart as much knowledge as I can onto the younger players.
"There is so much I want to show them that they have not been exposed to, and if they have got a coach who has played professional rugby for so long there are things to say which aren't in the coaching manual. If I can get as many of these guys through my hands as possible and even teach one or two things they can keep with them, I will be really happy with that."
Saturday's home date with Drif-field marks a pivotal point asWestoe aim to swim against the tide, conceding an average of 33 points per game and with just two wins from 14.
"This season has been heartbreaking," said the former Ulster, Bourgoin and Aironi lock-forward. "We have got Driffield at home on Saturday, and they beat us 84-19 when we went down to their place in September. We just weren't ready for them at all but we are trying to get some of the big boys back this weekend.
"The guys who rock up every week for training, I have nothing but respect for them. They do everything we need, and guys who have work commitments can often only pitch up for the home games. This is one we really need to win to get off second-bottom in the league, and getting away from those three relegation spots is our realistic goal.
"The bottom three get relegated from North One East into Durham and Northumberland One, and we have already lost a lot of players by coming down to this league from National Three North last season. Most of those have gone to Tynedale, and I feel if we had those players we would be knocking on the top four in this division.
"Because we have lost so much experience our young guys have been thrown in at the deep end, and players who were Colts last year are starting league games on a regular basis. That is a great effort from them but they haven't had the transition you need. They have had to learn the hard way, which is not always a bad thing, but if we were to drop down another league it would honestly break my heart."
Alongside Westoe's on-field struggles has been the debate over whether or not the club should leave their Wood Terrace home for a new venue elsewhere in the region, and even as a relative newcomer del Fava has strong feelings. He said: "Purely from my own personal point of view and not speaking on behalf of the club, I think it would be a shame if we were to move.
"I love the way everything is set up there, although obviously things need an update. We have a massive support system around us from the likes of Mortimer School. We use their indoor facilities for training, Brinkburn Community Centre let us go there as well, and the community around the club is outstanding.
"Me as an individual, I wouldn't want us to move to a new ground. That old wooden stand has been there for years, and Westoe is ingrained in the timber of that clubhouse. The club would lose a lot of identity and the game plan of kicking down the hill to that bottom corner is what people have come to associate with Westoe.
"I know change can be a good thing, but I do think we can just update the current home and make it better rather than uprooting the whole thing.
That site is embedded into the community of the whole club, but then again if the club feels it needs to move then I am not adverse to people making progress."
This season has been heartbreaking. This is one we really need to win to get off second bottom in the leagueCarlo del Fava
<BItaly international Carlo del Fava spent two years at Newcastle Falcons before a neck injury brought an end to his career in 2014. Left: former Falcons centre James Fitzpatrick, who is now backs coach at Westoe
For Carlo del Fava, coaching at Westoe filled a void after injury forced him to give up playing rugby